An ambitious and provocative grouping of stories filled with peculiar characters.

Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana

STORIES

A collection of short stories plumbs the depths of the human psyche.

Appel (Einstein’s Beach House: Stories, 2015, etc.) possesses a curiously sharp radar for eccentricity; this collection of short stories investigates the meaning to be found in the messiness of human affairs. In “The Punishment,” an aging musician seeks to rein in her wayward grandson, both spoiled and ungovernable. She recalls her own youthful transgressions and the severe punishments she met with and finds the dark inspiration to chasten her incarcerated daughter’s teenage child. “Boundaries” charts the lonely life of Phoebe Laroque, who works as a border patrol officer and every year has Christmas dinner with her partner, Artie Kimmel. She’s confronted one year with almost equally unsettling prospects: Artie falls in love with a woman suddenly and it’s not her, and a Pakistani attempts to cross the border with what seems to be a dangerous case of smallpox. In one of the two title stories, “Coulrophobia,” a family takes in a mime as a boarder, and his enigmatic presence releases its dysfunction. Some of the stories delve into complex philosophical themes, like “Counting,” in which two Census Bureau agents stumble on a couple living off the grid, averse to being counted, embracing a life that, in its anonymity, flirts with nonexistence. Despite the sometimes heavy themes and somber tone, Appel can be delightfully comedic, even downright silly. In “Saluting the Magpie,” an infant repeatedly swallows household objects, driving her parents insane with worry. After she consumes a penny, her father calls the number for poison control since the mother voices concern that copper is leaching into the baby’s system. The operator dryly asks what kind of penny. Sometimes, the stories feel like symbol-laden parables, and the lessons are too neat and didactic. The conclusion of “Magpie” seems facile: “Together, we watch the copper coin as it rests on my bare flesh, and I understand that we are both waiting for me to swallow it. That is what love is about, isn’t it? Swallowing the ingestible.” For such an unconventional collection, this glib moral seems incongruent. Overall, though, this is a gimlet-eyed and boldly original meditation on the weirdness of human nature.

An ambitious and provocative grouping of stories filled with peculiar characters.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62557-953-9

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Black Lawrence Press

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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IT ENDS WITH US

Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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