A witty, formally thrilling family saga that feels about 100 pages too long.

REPRODUCTION

A generation-spanning debut novel of unintended pregnancies and imperfect chosen families, winner of the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize, by a black Canadian writer.

In the late 1970s, two people meet in a Toronto hospital, where their dying mothers share the same room. That seems to be as far as their similarities extend: Edgar Gross is a wealthy, early-middle-aged white German man who works for his family’s company, while Felicia Shaw is a 19-year-old black high school student originally from a “small unrecognized island.” Felicia’s mother dies and Edgar’s is eventually discharged, but the two strike up a romance that is by turns affectionately teasing and rancorous. But soon Felicia finds out Edgar is married and then that she’s pregnant; Edgar tries to force her to have an abortion, and Felicia moves out. A decade and a half later, Felicia and her 15-year-old son, Army, live in part of a house shared by their landlord, Oliver, and his two children. In alternating sections, Williams (Personals, 2012, etc.) roves among the perspectives of the people living at 55 Newcourt— Felicia, drawn in yet again by Edgar, who’s facing allegations of sexual harassment at his company; Army, who lusts after Oliver’s 16-year-old daughter, Heather, and concocts various get-rich-quick schemes that rely mostly on his peers’ money; Oliver, who can’t stop thinking about his recent, acrimonious divorce; and Heather, who flirts with Army and a skinny shelf stocker at the local mall. But when Heather is raped and becomes pregnant, the residents of 55 Newcourt band together to take care of her. The novel contains a sly but sharp critique of power, in which women are forced to shoulder the failings, large and small, of white men—“[Edgar] stood in the doorway of the living room, calling for Felicia, whining the last syllable, waiting, as if he had forgotten how to take off his coat”—whose internal monologues are self-absorbed and un-self-consciously racist: “Her people killed each other as punctuation,” Edgar thinks of Felicia. But what pulls the reader along are Williams’ playful, brilliant formal innovations: song lyrics annotated from Heather’s point of view, a bravura section organized in the form of a numbered list that cycles through each character’s stream-of-consciousness and humanizes everyone involved. The last section, by contrast, drags as it attempts to tie together the novel’s themes into a neat yet unsatisfying bow.

A witty, formally thrilling family saga that feels about 100 pages too long.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-60945-575-0

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

PRETTY THINGS

The daughter of a grifter plans to fund her mother’s cancer treatment with a revenge con.

Rich people suck, don’t they? Nina Ross found this out in her adolescence, when her romance with Benny Liebling was broken up by his status-obsessed, old-money father, who found them screwing in the guest cottage of the family’s Lake Tahoe estate. Back then, Nina had a future—but she’s since followed her con-artist mother into the family business with the help of a handsome blue-eyed Irish confederate named Lachlan. “Here’s my rule,” Nina tells him. “Only people who have too much, and only people who deserve it.” Of course, he agrees. “We take only what we need.” With her art history background, Nina is usually able to target a few expensive antiques they can lift without the rich dopes even noticing they’re gone. But now that Nina's mother is hovering at death’s door without health insurance, she’s going after the $1 million in cash Benny mentioned was in his father’s safe all those years ago. So back to Lake Tahoe it is. The older Lieblings are dead, and Benny’s in the bin, so it’s his sister Vanessa Liebling who is the target of the complicated caper. Vanessa is a terribly annoying character—“I couldn’t tell you how I went from a few dozen Instagram followers to a half-million. One day, you’re uploading photos of your dog wearing sunglasses; and the next you’re begin flown to Coachella on a private jet with four other social media It Girls…”—but, in fact, you’ll hate everyone in this book. That is surely Brown’s (Watch Me Disappear, 2017, etc.) intention as she’s the one making them natter on this way. She also makes them vomit much more than is normal, whether it’s because they’re poisoning each other or because they’re just so horrified by each other’s behavior. Definitely stay to see how it all turns out.

Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-47912-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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