A sharply intelligent, warmhearted embrace of human imperfection—the kind of book that invites a second reading.

THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING

Despite various mysteries and suspicious deaths in this story about a Montana woman uncovering secrets past and present, Harrison wisely concentrates less on plot twists than on exploring the trickiness of memory where love and family are concerned.

Over the course of a week in the summer of 2002, 42-year-old Polly, a married mother of two and sometime editor who helps her husband run his restaurant in Livingston, Montana, finds herself coping with several crises at once. Since a recent bicycle accident, Polly has struggled with memory problems, remembering too much as well as too little. As she prepares for a large family reunion to celebrate her great aunt Maude’s 90th birthday, disjointed images of the past haunt her, and arguments with her mother, Jane—a highly successful historian who's written about "the eternal nature of stories"—about whether some of Polly’s memories may be false, have exacerbated her fear of losing her mind. Meanwhile, her children’s babysitter, Ariel, is missing and presumed drowned after a kayaking mishap. The tragedy involves Polly and the tight-knit Livingston community first in a search for Ariel, then in mourning, then in uncomfortable suspicions surrounding Ariel’s kayaking companion and apparent boyfriend. Polly’s emotional turmoil is the center of the novel as she fixates not only on Ariel’s death, but also on what exactly happened in 1968, "when her world blew up.” Another layer of understanding comes in chapters in which the 1968 events, extremes of joy and tragedy, are seen through Polly’s limited 7-year-old perspective. The result is a kaleidoscope of facts and recollections that reveal emotional as well as factual truth only in tantalizing fragments. Some mysteries remain unsolved; others Polly solves, sometimes to her dismay. Through small moments, particularly shared meals and drinks, the reader becomes intimately involved in Polly’s inner life and falls in love with a vividly portrayed Montana devoid of Western clichés.

A sharply intelligent, warmhearted embrace of human imperfection—the kind of book that invites a second reading.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64009-234-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

TO PARADISE

A triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093 explore the fate of humanity, the essential power and sorrow of love, and the unique doom brought upon itself by the United States.

After the extraordinary reception of Yanagihara's Kirkus Prize–winning second novel, A Little Life (2015), her follow-up could not be more eagerly awaited. While it is nothing like either of her previous novels, it's also unlike anything else you've read (though Cloud Atlas, The House of Mirth, Martin and John, and Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy may all cross your mind at various points). More than 700 pages long, the book is composed of three sections, each a distinct narrative, each set in a counterfactual historical iteration of the place we call the United States. The narratives are connected by settings and themes: A house on Washington Square in Greenwich Village is central to each; Hawaii comes up often, most prominently in the second. The same names are used for (very different) characters in each story; almost all are gay and many are married. Even in the Edith Wharton–esque opening story, in which the scion of a wealthy family is caught between an arranged marriage and a reckless affair, both of his possible partners are men. Illness and disability are themes in each, most dramatically in the third, set in a brutally detailed post-pandemic totalitarian dystopia. Here is the single plot connection we could find: In the third part, a character remembers hearing a story with the plot of the first. She mourns the fact that she never did get to hear the end of it: "After all these years I found myself wondering what had happened....I knew it was foolish because they weren't even real people but I thought of them often. I wanted to know what had become of them." You will know just how she feels. But what does it mean that Yanagihara acknowledges this? That is just one of the conundrums sure to provoke years of discussion and theorizing. Another: Given the punch in the gut of utter despair one feels when all the most cherished elements of 19th- and 20th-century lives are unceremoniously swept off the stage when you turn the page to the 21st—why is the book not called To Hell?

Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54793-2

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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