An evocative but sometimes turgid portrait of a troubled soul in a bewildering land.

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CHAOS AND GRIME

A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A CHINESE CITY

An American expatriate in China encounters filth, fraud, and fickle women in this fictionalized memoir.

Acerbi frames his book as a third-person narrative about “Jim,” an American student who travels to the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2013, ostensibly to study at Wuhan University but mainly to reunite with his long-distance girlfriend, Lan. Lan promptly dumps Jim to kick off his creeping disenchantment with all things Chinese. He’s also appalled by the dirt and disorder, the ubiquitous construction work, the “dense layer of black grime” in commercial kitchens, the “odor of stagnant sewage,” the rats trundling about in restaurants, the scams that hustlers run on him, and the baffling disorganization of the Chinese bureaucracy (one visa office functionary does nothing but play video games). Then there’s Jim’s vexed experiences with other Chinese women, who are friendly and even forward thanks to his barbarian virility but then blow him off when things get serious. He gets engaged to Dina, a university staffer entranced by the sweat that “glistened from the rippled surfaces of his lean muscularity,” but she also starts a relationship with her boss, Peng, that Jim thinks is sexual. A Kafkaesque melodrama ensues: Jim breaks into Dina’s room looking for signs of infidelity, imagines she has been brainwashed, sends her threatening emails—“I will tell your father and mother that every day you go with your manager to a hotel to have sexual intercourse”—and contemplates murdering Peng. Jim is eventually questioned by police and kicked off campus. Acerbi’s well-observed panorama of Chinese culture brims with shrewd insights—“calling the police is snitching, breaking the unspoken code that conflict resolution should occur through hierarchical relationships or sheer force if need be, but never through official channels”—and vivid scenes. (At an internet cafe, “emaciated addicts of video games…frittered away their nights here pretending to be muscled superheroes in pathetic fantasy lands….They burned everything with their cigarettes, from the seats to the tables to the computers’ USB ports.”) Unfortunately, the narrative often bogs down like a diary in the details of Jim’s aimless socializing. His stalking of Dina feels deranged but also dreary as he endlessly rehashes the eye-glazing minutiae of his obsessions. Readers may grow tired waiting for Jim to realize how bad his own behavior has been.

An evocative but sometimes turgid portrait of a troubled soul in a bewildering land.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73445-441-3

Page Count: 267

Publisher: LSI Holdings, LLC

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

ALMOST JUST FRIENDS

Piper Manning is determined to sell her family’s property so she can leave her hometown behind, but when her siblings come back with life-changing secrets and her sexy neighbor begins to feel like “The One,” she might have to redo her to-do list.

As children, Piper and her younger siblings, Gavin and Winnie, were sent to live with their grandparents in Wildstone, California, from the Congo after one of Gavin’s friends was killed. Their parents were supposed to meet them later but never made it. Piper wound up being more of a parent than her grandparents, though: “In the end, Piper had done all the raising. It’d taken forever, but now, finally, her brother and sister were off living their own lives.” Piper, the queen of the bullet journal, plans to fix up the family’s lakeside property her grandparents left the three siblings when they died. Selling it will enable her to study to be a physician’s assistant as she’s always wanted. However, just as the goal seems in sight, Gavin and Winnie come home, ostensibly for Piper’s 30th birthday, and then never leave. Turns out, Piper’s brother and sister have recently managed to get into a couple buckets of trouble, and they need some time to reevaluate their options. They aren’t willing to share their problems with Piper, though they’ve been completely open with each other. And Winnie, who’s pregnant, has been very open with Piper’s neighbor Emmitt Reid and his visiting son, Camden, since the baby’s father is Cam’s younger brother, Rowan, who died a few months earlier in a car accident. Everyone has issues to navigate, made more complicated by Gavin and Winnie’s swearing Cam to secrecy just as he and Piper try—and fail—to ignore their attraction to each other. Shalvis keeps the physical and emotional tension high, though the siblings’ refusal to share with Piper becomes tedious and starts to feel childish.

Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296139-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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