Vividly and pointedly evoking prejudices "unconventional" couples among the current-day elderly faced (and some are still...

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THE JAPANESE LOVER

Honored last year with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her inspiring fiction and soul-baring memoirs, Allende (Ripper, 2014, etc.) offers a saga of a couple that keeps its affair secret for the better half of a century. 

One of the lovers, Alma Belasco (nee Mendel), was barely 8 years old when her Polish parents, fearing rumors of war could prove true, sent her to live with her wealthy American uncle and aunt in San Francisco; bereft yet stoical when she arrives at Sea Cliff, she found allies who were destined to become “her life’s only loves”: her shy but devastatingly handsome and uber-intuitive cousin Nate Belasco; and her childhood playmate Ichimei Fukado, the charismatic son of the Belascos’ gardener, whose family was sent to an internment camp following the attack on Pearl Harbor. That this trio will ultimately help sort each other out is foregone, though how and when is not immediately clear. Allende prolongs the suspense, sprinkling Ichi’s soulful letters to Alma into the narrative of her postwar career as a textile artist with an outwardly perfect marriage and her abrupt decision to move out of the family estate into a Spartan room at Lark House—a slightly whackadoodle senior living residence that was bequeathed to the city by a chocolate magnate. At times Allende’s glib humor misfires (“I get them hooked on a TV series, because nobody wants to die before the final episode,” quips a member of the cleaning staff) or seems stunningly off-key (“Mexico greeted them with its well-known clichés”). Some readers may wince at a closeted gay character’s soft-serve admission: “Hearts are big enough to contain love for more than one person.” But among the white ponytailed hipsters and yoga-practicing widows at the senior center, Alma stands out—she’s haughty and self-centered and, after decades in the rag trade, “[dresses] like a Tibetan refugee.” She’s also a bit of a yenta: she deploys her part-time secretary, Irina (a doughty 23-year-old Romanian émigré), and grandson Seth (Irina’s love-struck suitor) to put her letters, diaries, documents, and other detritus in order. Then she toodles off in her tiny car every few weeks with a small overnight bag. Packed with silk nightgowns. Could this 80-something woman actually be meeting a lover, wonders Irina (who is grappling with some secret baggage of her own)? Just you wait.

Vividly and pointedly evoking prejudices "unconventional" couples among the current-day elderly faced (and some are still battling), Allende, as always, gives progress and hopeful spirits their due.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1697-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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