Despite all the dire events, the narrative energy of masterfully interwoven plotlines always conveys a sense of life as an...

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GOLDEN AGE

From the Last Hundred Years series , Vol. 3

The title is decidedly sardonic, given the number of deaths and disasters Smiley inflicts on the Langdon family and kin in the final volume of her Last Hundred Years trilogy (Early Warning, 2015, etc.).

Nonetheless, “golden age” seems appropriate for the late-life reconciliation of Frank and Andy Langdon; it’s warmly affecting to see the remoteness Andy cultivated over decades of neglect slowly fade as Frank actually shares himself with her—until he’s struck by lightning at age 74. Several of his siblings meet less spectacular deaths as the story progresses year by year from 1987 through an imagined 2019, but autumnal musings by the survivors get no more space from this briskly unsentimental author than the maneuvers of the younger generations (a few of whom are somewhat schematically dispatched on 9/11 or scarred for life in the Iraq War). Frank and Andy’s son Michael remains as toxic as ever, engaging in ever shadier financial deals that make him one of many villains in the 2008 economic meltdown; his identical twin, Richie, strives to get some distance with a political career but can never entirely disengage from Michael's emotional force field. Their cousin Jesse, who inherited the family farm in Iowa, grapples with the havoc wrought by Monsanto’s genetically altered seeds, the impact of climate change on his crops, and the perennial financial insecurity of farmers, always in debt and vulnerable to predatory speculators like Michael. Newly introduced characters like Charlie (hitherto unknown son of a Langdon killed in Vietnam in Early Warning) and his girlfriend, Riley, militant political conscience of her boss, Richie, are welcome additions to Smiley’s vibrant gallery of fully fleshed characters, with Henry and Claire remaining the most ruefully appealing of the siblings we first met in Some Luck. The final chapters, which look a scant four years ahead and see nothing but ecological and political bad news, are almost comically bleak—let’s hope Smiley isn’t as skilled a fortuneteller as she is a storyteller.

Despite all the dire events, the narrative energy of masterfully interwoven plotlines always conveys a sense of life as an adventure worth pursuing.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-70034-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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