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A DANGEROUS BUSINESS

An oddly pleasant little trot through Gold Rush–era California.

Applying methods gleaned from a Poe story, a pair of 19th-century working girls put their heads together to fight a crime spree.

This strange little book from Pulitzer Prize winner Smiley combines a lurid plot involving the serial strangulation and stabbing of prostitutes in Monterey, California, in the early 1850s with a naïve, plainspoken style of narration and characterization that makes even scenes of copulation and gore seem sort of G-rated. This reflects the personality of the protagonist, Eliza Ripple, who is the proverbial whore with the heart of a Midwestern elementary school teacher. Married off by her parents at a tender age to a nasty older man who drags her from Kalamazoo to California and then gets shot in a bar fight, she winds up on her own, working at the brothel of kindly Mrs. Parks. As her new boss explains it, “Everyone knows that this is a dangerous business, but, between you and me, being a woman is a dangerous business, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” Eager for companionship, she finds a friend in a cross-dressing colleague named Jean McPherson, who's employed at an establishment serving the women of the town, a possibly ahistorical narrative flourish which adds to the dreamlike quality of the narrative. As women continue to disappear, as corpses turn up in the countryside outside town, and as local law enforcement remains steadfast in its lack of interest, Eliza and Jean decide to emulate the methods of detective Dupin in a Poe story they've both enjoyed: "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." Eliza begins to observe and analyze her clients' behavior and the contents of their pockets and the various characters she runs into around town, with a focus on finding the murderer. Like their creator, Eliza and Jean have a love for horses, and the agreeability of their various rides into the countryside somehow makes a bigger impression than the gruesome finds they turn up.

An oddly pleasant little trot through Gold Rush–era California.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-525-52033-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2022

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

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An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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