Elegantly written tales laced with melancholy and mischief.

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THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY AND OTHER STORIES

This volume of diverse short stories offers an exploration of memory and age.

Subtle surprises abound in Maher’s stylish collection. The opening tale, “A Real Prince,” introduces Yanka, a young girl who lives at an “outpost” and is ordered to do chores by her “keepers.” Due to her “obvious deficits,” the narrative reveals it is “irregular” that she has been allowed to live. She finds pleasure in folktales and retreats into her imagination, but when soldiers come to lodge at the outpost, she believes she has encountered a real prince. “Livia’s Daddy Comes Home From the War” continues the theme of youthful innocence, as the scene of a father returning from combat is recollected from the naïve perspective of a child. In “Vitae,” an academic plans on writing her magnum opus after being handed a severance package but finds herself working in a pizza shop and making an unusual deal with an armed robber. In “Dancing in the Dark,” a couple who have long fallen out of love are trapped in a dark elevator. The collection then turns to issues faced by older protagonists. The heartbreakingly moving “Turn, Turn, Turn” sees the world through the fog of dementia, where memory and understanding appear and recede without control. “Answering” is a whimsical but telling tale about a man named Howard whose vital organs take it upon themselves to call him on the phone to tell him how they feel. And the title story introduces a great-grandmother who hops on her great-granddaughter’s bicycle to evoke past memories and prove that she can still ride.

Maher’s writing has striking scope and breathtaking versatility. The diction of juvenile characters such as Livia, who struggles to recognize her father returning from war, is thoroughly convincing: “I’m membering hard now looking at his back but I can’t member about this man. I member a man in France who sended me shoes but now I can’t member what he’s sposed to look like.” At the opposite end of the age spectrum, the author effortlessly captures the ebbing tide of memory in “Turn, Turn, Turn”: “Sitting in my chair. Anna—that’s it, the name of the woman…my wife…she read to me about there being a time for everything. A time to sow, a time to die, and…something about stones.” These are poignant, wistful stories, but they are also carefully counterbalanced with Maher’s signature deadpan wit. In “Dancing in the Dark,” Claire, now desperately irritated by the foibles of her former partner, muses: “Victor. What a perfect name. Victor. A man who always has to have his way.” In addition, the author has the skill to draw from readers a childish snigger, as when Howard is bewildered by his body parts calling him on the phone: “Enough was enough, with his heart, his liver, his prostate (named Dick, for Chrissake) and his lungs all nagging him.” This is a prize collection that examines each stage of human life—how memories are lost and won; their value; and their weight.

Elegantly written tales laced with melancholy and mischief.  

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-943547-04-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Dog Hollow Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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