It’s hard to do justice to the outré and eccentric but gorgeous quality of Pilch’s prose. Here he manages to pull off some...

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MY FIRST SUICIDE

A set of loosely concatenated stories that don’t quite add up to a novel but are nonetheless rich in character and in the exploration of contemporary urban life in Poland.

In the title story a man reminisces about a time 40 years before, when at the age of 12 he first had the impulse to take his life. He’s heard from Pastor Kalinowski (one of the recurring characters) about the “other world” and has some curiosity about the passage from This World to That. The possibility of his own self-destruction curiously liberates the narrator, so he gives himself permission to violate some taboos—like watch an adult film and read a forbidden book he’s found at the bottom of a cupboard. Pilch manages to inject a great deal of humor into the story—as well as tragedy, for it’s also about the narrator’s relationship to his drunken and dissolute father. “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World” announces its subject grandly, though the narrator is forced to admit she might only be in the top ten—or the top 100. He’s nevertheless pleased to have found her, though his sexual fantasies about her turn out to be at one and the same time both indulged in and quashed. In “The Double of Tolstoy’s Son-in-Law,” the narrator develops an obsession about an old photograph of Tolstoy playing chess, while in “A Chapter about a Figure Sitting Motionless” the obsession is with Anka Chow Chow, a virginal soccer fan who has a weakness, or perhaps a fetish, for girls with backpacks.

It’s hard to do justice to the outré and eccentric but gorgeous quality of Pilch’s prose. Here he manages to pull off some neat literary tricks, frequently and self-consciously undermining the seriousness of his subjects with pricks of irony. 

Pub Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-934824-40-5

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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