A rich web of complex questions, rendered beautifully in this tale of a transgender professor.



A debut literary novel addresses issues of identity, family, and personal history.

Returning to her alma mater as a professor is a mixed bag for Nickie Farrell. Windfield College is a liberal enclave in a conservative section of northern Virginia and holds warm memories for her. But as a transgender woman, she must grapple with the fact that she presented herself as male when she attended the college. Her history becomes a more pressing issue when Cinda Vanderhart, an overzealous student reporter, violates her privacy. Nickie grants her an interview, and Cinda reveals that the professor is trans in the school paper. At the same time, Collie Skinner, a waiter in town, struggles with his grief over his mother’s serious illness and her recent revelation—that his biological father was a Windfield student who seemed to disappear shortly after their affair. Matters only escalate from there, as violent bigots follow and menace Nickie; Collie and his co-worker and confidante Robin Thompson start digging into his past; Cinda investigates the abnormal heterochromatic eyes Nickie and Collie share; and they all become embroiled in a deadly threat to the entire campus and all it represents. The prose in Woulff’s novel is solid, but its true strength is in giving multiple perspectives their own unique voices. Nickie communicates her uncertainty, anxiety, and pride as she deals with her trajectory and shifting relationships. Early on, she’s optimistic about teaching at Windfield (“Maybe she had finally discovered her niche, her purpose in life. After everything she’d been through, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be at peace with herself and the world?”). Collie’s story has a resonance through his sense of loss and the difficulties of self-knowledge without fully understanding his roots. And Cinda too has sympathetic turns even as her thread demonstrates how a passion for truth can be harmful and how attitudes within LGBT communities can threaten trans people. That said, the book contains much more than a character study, and readers who enjoy a good thrill should be happy to be along for the ride even as the more emotional segments tug at the heartstrings. Ultimately, this novel is a deft and nuanced study in contradictions, clashes, and mismatches and a stirring reminder that so often that’s exactly what life is.

A rich web of complex questions, rendered beautifully in this tale of a transgender professor.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4327-4405-2

Page Count: 469

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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