An intricate and captivating dual narrative that keeps returning to the magic of trees.

LINEAGE OF THE TREES

A tragedy-scarred woman dedicates her life to guarding trees.

Brunette’s novel opens with an emblematically vivid and horrifying image. The book’s main character, Lata Marie, recalls the day before her eighth birthday, when Aunt Charlotte set fire to her house—“a rambling Victorian with a turret and a wrap-around porch”—and was consumed in the flames. “The last time I saw her,” Lata reflects, “she stood in the attic window waving at me, a solid wall of fire behind her like a stage curtain.” From that stark initial image, the narrative flows backward to flesh out the oddly controlling nature of Lata’s Uncle Jesse and its effect on the unconventional Charlotte, who “had a translucent quality—an ability to walk through a room full of people as though she were the only one there.” It was the extensive amount of time she spent with Charlotte as a child that gave Lata her own sympathy for nature and “taste for wildness.” The story expands to include Charlotte’s own background; the tale of her introduction to the neighborhood woods, protected by the Convent of the Sisters of St. Francis; and the semimystical lessons she absorbed from nature. “The woods taught me things you can’t learn from people,” Charlotte muses, “like how to make friends with trees and the little plants that grow beneath them.” Looming in the background of all these deep stories are the fate of the woods and the fiery culmination awaiting Charlotte.

Brunette handles the many strands of her novel with considerable, delicate skill. The decision to shuttle the plots between chapters focusing on Lata and those concentrating on Charlotte could easily have backfired since it necessarily stands in the way of a central momentum forming. But the author makes this split narrative work, increasing the undercurrents of tension between the two stories across diverse time periods and personalities. Somewhat unexpectedly, the character of Jesse, with his odd obsessions—reflected in a different way from these two narrative perspectives—often takes primacy. The book unifies the various threads through a sense of connection to the natural world and a feeling of resentment at its destruction. “Did anyone make their prayers to the forest, make their case for the good this city would do by rising up in its place?” asks a character looking at the rapid urban expansion. “Did anyone talk to the people who had lived there first, convince them of the pressing need for the giant dry cleaner and the drug store and the factory that made foam rubber?” Brunette gracefully and subtly moves her parallel stories forward, and although Charlotte’s tale is noticeably more intriguing than Lata’s, both are adroitly shaped in order to evoke and echo each other. And the suggestion running through both accounts—the unambiguous sanctity of the natural world—lends the two storylines an urgent kind of real-world spirituality.

An intricate and captivating dual narrative that keeps returning to the magic of trees.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9892605-5-8

Page Count: 234

Publisher: flamingseed press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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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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A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

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PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION

A travel writer has one last shot at reconnecting with the best friend she just might be in love with.

Poppy and Alex couldn't be more different. She loves wearing bright colors while he prefers khakis and a T-shirt. She likes just about everything while he’s a bit more discerning. And yet, their opposites-attract friendship works because they love each other…in a totally platonic way. Probably. Even though they have their own separate lives (Poppy lives in New York City and is a travel writer with a popular Instagram account; Alex is a high school teacher in their tiny Ohio hometown), they still manage to get together each summer for one fabulous vacation. They grow closer every year, but Poppy doesn’t let herself linger on her feelings for Alex—she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship or the way she can be fully herself with him. They continue to date other people, even bringing their serious partners on their summer vacations…but then, after a falling-out, they stop speaking. When Poppy finds herself facing a serious bout of ennui, unhappy with her glamorous job and the life she’s been dreaming of forever, she thinks back to the last time she was truly happy: her last vacation with Alex. And so, though they haven’t spoken in two years, she asks him to take another vacation with her. She’s determined to bridge the gap that’s formed between them and become best friends again, but to do that, she’ll have to be honest with Alex—and herself—about her true feelings. In chapters that jump around in time, Henry shows readers the progression (and dissolution) of Poppy and Alex’s friendship. Their slow-burn love story hits on beloved romance tropes (such as there unexpectedly being only one bed on the reconciliation trip Poppy plans) while still feeling entirely fresh. Henry’s biggest strength is in the sparkling, often laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue, particularly the banter-filled conversations between Poppy and Alex. But there’s depth to the story, too—Poppy’s feeling of dissatisfaction with a life that should be making her happy as well as her unresolved feelings toward the difficult parts of her childhood make her a sympathetic and relatable character. The end result is a story that pays homage to classic romantic comedies while having a point of view all its own.

A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0675-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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