This is a writer who thinks hard and deep about the country that forges his fiction.

GLOSSARY FOR THE END OF DAYS

STORIES

A collection of stories in search of an America that resists road mapping.

In nine stories and two short “interludes,” Stansel presents protagonists from all over the country in search of their identities (from sexual orientation to musical category), attempting to come to terms with mortality (their own and others), trying to find meaning and order in a world of chance and chaos. Wherever they go, they find themselves—and they generally find themselves adrift.  But, as one of the narrators advises, “The world tells us things if only we bother to hear it.” With story formats ranging from question-and-answer to the alphabetical glossary of the title story, the centerpiece of the collection is “The Caller,” based around a radio call-in show. The protagonist, Max, concocts a tale to share on Voices for the Lost, a program about people who have disappeared in the Mexican drug wars, saying his brother disappeared near Juarez. He did lose his brother to drug violence, though not to a Mexican drug cartel, and he invents the story to provide a connection with others on the program, a connection that can offer some relief from his aimless torpor, “a sad amazement at still being alive.” Inevitably, though, connection leads to consequences beyond his control. Elsewhere, the thematic ambition turns heavier handed. In “North out of Houston,” a family faces a metaphysical crisis as they're stalled on the highway while trying to evacuate ahead of a tropical storm. Mother, father, and son must each confront and attempt to resolve some issue related to sexuality amid a storm that is plainly metaphorical as well as natural. There is just too much symbolic baggage for a single story to carry.  In “Modern Sounds in Country and Western,” a Brooklyn band’s progression from indie to alt-country results in a breakthrough hit and a terrorist attack. There’s a lot going on in these stories and a lot at stake, but the philosophical weight is sometimes too much for the slighter among them to bear.

This is a writer who thinks hard and deep about the country that forges his fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

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WE BEGIN AT THE END

A police chief who never grew up and a girl who never had a childhood try to solve the murder of someone they love.

A tiny, picturesque town on the California coast is an emotional prison for the characters of this impressive, often lyrical thriller. Its two main characters are a cop with an improbable naïveté and a child too old for her years. Walk (short for Walker, his last name) is chief of the two-person police department in Cape Haven and a native son. He’s kind and conscientious and haunted by a crime that occurred when he was a teenager, the death of a girl named Sissy Radley, whose body Walk discovered. Duchess Radley is that child’s niece, the daughter of Star Radley, the town’s doomed beauty. Most men lust after Star, including several of her neighbors and perhaps a sinister real estate developer named Dickie Darke. But Star is a substance abuser in a downward spiral, and her fatherless kids, Duchess and her younger brother, Robin, get, at best, Star’s benign neglect. Walk, who’s known Star since they were kids, is the family’s protector. As the book begins, all of them are coming to terms with the return to town of Vincent King. He’s Walk’s former best friend, Star’s former boyfriend, and he’s served a 30-year prison term for the death of Sissy (and that of a man he killed in prison). Someone will end up dead, and the murder mystery structures the book. But its core is Duchess, a rage-filled girl who is her brother’s tender, devoted caretaker, a beauty like her mother, and a fist-swinging fighter who introduces herself as “the outlaw Duchess Day Radley.” Whitaker crafts an absorbing plot around crimes in the present and secrets long buried, springing surprises to the very end.

A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-75966-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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