The narrative is powerful and the characters compelling, when the writing doesn’t undermine the novelist’s considerable...

NOVA

A sardonic novel that seethes with rage, yet lacks the stylistic command to fulfill its ambition.

The sophomore effort from Boice (MVP, 2007) has more power and narrative propulsion than his debut, but it suffers from some jarring shifts in tone. The title refers to northern Virginia, a suburban nowhere satellite of Washington, D.C., where fathers work for the military, mothers teach school or stay home, and teenagers fail to escape the numbness of their existence through getting stoned and having sex. “Starting at puberty, kids in Northern Virginia start going around muttering like a mantra that they hate Northern Virginia and can’t wait to leave,” writes Boice, though his novel leaves little hope that any of them will ever escape, and that even those who make a geographical departure will carry the disease of dead-end American consumerism with them. Meanwhile, most of their parents are leading empty lives in unsatisfying marriages, with some addicted to indiscriminate promiscuity and/or Internet porn. The novel begins on November 2, 1998, with the body of 17-year-old Grayson Donald hanging from a basketball rim. It ends on the same night, in the same place, returning full circle to the graphic details of Grayson’s death. The rest of the narrative shows what led Grayson to this fate, though he doesn’t seem appreciably more disturbed than the rest of his fellow high schoolers leading aimless lives or the parents who are clueless about the lives of their kids (and perhaps their own lives as well). As bleak as this novel may be, there are savagely funny episodes concerning random sex and one surrealistic orgy of serial vomiting. Yet the writing lacks a coherent narrative voice, one that wouldn’t mix dozens of words obscure or invented (“gungulation,” “meshanteries,” “fimetic,” all in the same paragraph) with lazy clichés (“brain fart,” “stinking drunk”).

The narrative is powerful and the characters compelling, when the writing doesn’t undermine the novelist’s considerable promise.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4165-7542-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2008

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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