This cross-continental tale of Belgian gamblers seeking their fortunes in Las Vegas is the latest (1994) novel from the internationally acclaimed Flemish author of The Sorrow of Belgium (1990) and The Swordfish (p. 239). It's a fragmented story that begins in a bar called ``The Unicorn,'' whose regulars include Claus's unnamed narrator and a group of cronies burdened with colorful monikers (Felix the Cat, Rev'em-up Red, and so forth) who seem to have been transplanted to Europe from Cannery Row. Two of them, dark, brooding (half- Portuguese) Michel and enormously overweight Jake, impulsively light out for America, first to Los Angeles, then eastward to Vegas and the gaming tables. As the keen, ferretlike Michel and ``the sluggish, sleeping giant'' who accompanies him make their way through the various temptations offered by their newfound land, Claus builds a hilarious picture of southwestern American neon splendor (several abrasive hookers make vivid cameo appearances, and a Christian fundamentalist rancher takes Jake and Michel to a revival meeting that features an aging, foulmouthed Jerry Lee Lewis). These sequences are variously reminiscent of the inspired demolitions of trash-culture Americana accomplished decades ago by Evelyn Waugh and Nabokov, as well as Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust. But there's more to the novel: sporadic returns back to Belgium, where the Unicorn's denizens comment on their missing buddies and Jake's abandoned wife struggles to tend their brain-damaged daughter; and occasional appearances by the ghost of Rickabone, their late wastrel companion, who seems to represent his survivors' darker side. Arresting conceptions and vigorous writing abound, but- -except for an inchoate pattern of ironical allusions to the biblical Jacob (who, unlike his namesake, amassed great wealth and experienced a vision of eternity)—none of this adds up to a coherent novel. The Sorrow of Belgium was almost a masterpiece. Desire is a curiosity that reads like Hugo Claus's American Notes, not yet reshaped into fiction.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-670-86746-2

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1997

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...


Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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