When Reiss’ novel clicks, it works as both a strange vision of our own world and an evocative landscape unto itself; when it...



The protagonist of this satirical and borderline-dystopian novel must navigate familial crises, natural disasters, and the reach of a boorish, omnipresent head of state.

This is Reiss’ first novel after numerous volumes of poetry, but unlike many a poet-turned-novelist, he hasn’t opted for a stoic lyricism in his fiction. Instead, the active mode here is a satirical one. Set in the near future in a desert state grappling with sandstorms and external threats, this novel tells the story of a man named Boyd as his life undergoes several upheavals over the course of many days. A number of stylized elements stand out, including a ritualized aspect found in many characters’ speech, involving tributes to the head of state, one Guv’na Brush. Largely, this plays out like a fun-house reflection of contemporary politics, from Brush’s general dislike of literature, photography, and media to an allusion made to something being “a ruse cooked up by reporters.” Hints are scattered throughout as to how the present day gave way to this more catastrophic landscape; the ways in which dates have given way to a system based on a cult of personality suggest a more authoritarian version of the calendar found in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. There are abundant contrasts to be found here, from the evocative landscapes that Boyd observes to the not-exactly-subtle commentary Reiss makes on American conservatism, militarism, racism, and anti-intellectualism. At times the juxtaposition between the two makes for a memorably jarring experience; at others, its relative success may depend on where its reader falls on the political spectrum.

When Reiss’ novel clicks, it works as both a strange vision of our own world and an evocative landscape unto itself; when it doesn’t, the result is flatter and less insightful about the present day.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941-55089-2

Page Count: 315

Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?