There are long novels that could have been even longer, and short novels that should have been even shorter. This latest...

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ON CHESIL BEACH

         Size matters.  Or so it seems with literature.  From Dickens to Dostoevsky through Pynchon and Franzen, the culture typically equates great books with big books.  Even with authors who have shown early mastery of the shorter form, such as James Joyce and Saul Bellow, such works are seen in retrospect as warm-ups for the longer novels on which their reputations rest.

         Thus it was no surprise when Ian McEwan both enlarged his readership and elevated his international renown with Atonement (2003), a novel that spanned decades and was about twice as long as the slim, unsettling volumes for which he’d previously been known.  He followed with Saturday (2005), which also seemed epic in comparison with his early work – though its scope was a single, particularly eventful day.          In the wake of those bestsellers, it will be no surprise if On Chesil Beach, his return to the shorter form, is received as a slighter achievement, a stopgap between big books.  Never before has McEwan focused his fiction so narrowly, detailing little more than an hour in the 1962 wedding night of British newlyweds.  Yet the psychological subtlety and richness of detail are as acute as they are in his longer novels, with the compression rendering this achievement all the more striking.          In crucial respects, this novel should not be linked with his early fiction, for those novels were not only shorter than Atonement, they were colder, frequently darker and more sinister.  There was almost a clinician’s precision in the bloodlessness of McEwan’s prose.  By contrast, On Chesil Beach allows readers to achieve an empathy with both of its 22-year-old characters that perhaps they are incapable of achieving with each other.  Their marriage is an accident that became an inevitability, as two people who have little idea how compatible they are do what young people did before the sexual revolution that the novel anticipates:  When they reached a certain age, they married whomever they were dating.          On Chesil Beach is a novel about many things:  the British class system, changing morés, the slumber from which young people would awaken with the Beatles, the nature of love and the sexual expression of it.  Yet it’s primarily a novel of masterful sentences that express (sometimes through spaces and silences) what the characters themselves are incapable of expressing.           There’s a virtuosic expanse just past the novel’s midpoint, when the newlyweds finally arise form their dinner to make their awkward way toward consummation.  As McEwan details the emotional ebb and flow of desire, fear, mortification, and embarrassment of two people who barely know themselves, let alone each other, the reader realizes in retrospect that he has become spellbound by twelve pages that describe perhaps a minute and a half of foreplay.  The prose slices and shimmers, though sex has rarely seemed less sexy.

         There are long novels that could have been even longer, and short novels that should have been even shorter.  This latest from England’s foremost contemporary novelist feels just right.

Pub Date: June 5, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-52240-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2007

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Another success for the publishing phenom.

UNDER CURRENTS

An abused boy fights back, escapes, then returns as an attorney to his beloved hometown, but just as he’s falling in love with a transplanted landscaper, a series of attacks from shadowy enemies jeopardizes their happiness.

“From the outside, the house in Lakeview Terrace looked perfect.” Which of course means that it wasn't. We're introduced to the horrifying Dr. Graham Bigelow, who beats his wife and, increasingly as the boy gets older, his son, Zane. On the night of Zane’s prom, a particularly savage attack puts him and his sister in the hospital, and his father blames Zane, landing him in jail. Then his sister stands up for him, enlisting the aid of their aunt, and everything changes, mainly due to Zane’s secret diaries. Nearly 20 years later, Zane leaves a successful career as a lawyer to return to Lakeview, where his aunt and sister live with their families, deciding to hang a shingle as a small-town lawyer. Then he meets Darby McCray, the landscaper who’s recently relocated and taken the town by storm, starting with the transformation of his family’s rental bungalows. The two are instantly intrigued by each other, but they move slowly into a relationship neither is looking for. Darby has a violent past of her own, so she is more than willing to take on the risk of antagonizing a boorish local family when she and Zane help an abused wife. Suddenly Zane and Darby face one attack after another, and even as they grow ever closer under the pressure, the dangers become more insidious. Roberts’ latest title feels a little long and the story is slightly cumbersome, but her greatest strength is in making the reader feel connected to her characters, so “unnecessary details” can also charm and engage.

Another success for the publishing phenom.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20709-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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A clever, romantic, sexy love story.

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RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE

The much-loved royal romance genre gets a fun and refreshing update in McQuiston’s debut.

Alex Claremont-Diaz, son of the American President Ellen Claremont, knows one thing for sure: He hates Henry, the British prince to whom he is always compared. He lives for their verbal sparring matches, but when one of their fights at a royal wedding goes a bit too far, they end up falling into a wedding cake and making tabloid headlines. An international scandal could ruin Alex’s mother’s chances for re-election, so it’s time for damage control. The plan? Alex and Henry must pretend to be best friends, giving the tabloids pictures of their bromance and neutralizing the threat to Ellen's presidency. But after a few photo ops with Henry, Alex starts to realize that the passionate anger he feels toward him might be a cover for regular old passion. There are, naturally, a million roadblocks between their first kiss and their happily-ever-after—how can American political royalty and actual British royalty ever be together? How can they navigate being open about their sexualities (Alex is bisexual; Henry is gay) in their very public and very scrutinized roles? Alex and Henry must decide if they’ll risk their futures, their families, and their careers to take a chance on happiness. Although the story’s premise might be a fantasy—it takes place in a world in which a divorced-mom Texan Democrat won the 2016 election—the emotions are all real. The love affair between Alex and Henry is intense and romantic, made all the more so by the inclusion of their poetic emails that manage to be both funny and steamy. McQuiston’s strength is in dialogue; her characters speak in hilarious rapid-fire bursts with plenty of “likes,” “ums,” creative punctuation, and pop-culture references, sounding like smarter, funnier versions of real people. Although Alex and Henry’s relationship is the heart of the story, their friends and family members are all rich, well-drawn characters, and their respective worlds feel both realistic and larger-than-life.

A clever, romantic, sexy love story.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31677-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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