We have heard that Jess Walter writes nonstop: Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Please, never stop.

THE COLD MILLIONS

Irresistible hobo brothers, an evil tycoon, a pregnant union organizer, a burlesque star, and a shady private eye light up a tale of the great Northwest in the early 20th century.

The fact that the same author has written books as wildly different and all as transporting as The Zero (2006), The Financial Lives of the Poets (2009), Beautiful Ruins (2012), and now this latest tour de force is testimony to Walter’s protean storytelling power and astounding ability to set a scene, any scene. Here it’s Spokane, his hometown, circa 1909. Orphaned Montana brothers Gig and Rye Dolan, 23 and 16, have wound up there along with so many others—“they floated in from mines and farms and log camps, filled every flop and boardinghouse, slept in parks and alleys…and, on the night just past, this abandoned ball field, its infield littered with itinerants, vagrants, floaters, Americans.” The violent adventure that befalls Rye and Gig the next morning becomes the centerpiece of a story that Rye ends up reciting onstage when he goes on the road with 19-year-old Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a suffragette and union organizer and one of several real-life characters in the book. The free speech riots the Dolan brothers get involved in and end up incarcerated for are taken from history as well. At intervals, chapters are narrated by first-person characters both major and minor, several of whom die on the page midsentence, a literally breathtaking fictional flourish. Two favorite voices are Ursula the Great, the vaudeville performer Gig falls in love with, and Del Dalveaux, a detective in the employ of Ursula’s patron. Noted for her singing and her way with a live cougar, Ursula displays food-writing talent as well: “We were served a French red wine, a fine local beefsteak, scallops from Seattle, and gnocchi that might have been pinched from the ass of an Italian angel.” Dalveaux is a hard-boiled piece of work: “Spokane gave me the morbs. Right blood blister of a town. Six-month millionaires and skunk hobos, and none in between….The city was twice the size of the last time I’d hated being there.”

We have heard that Jess Walter writes nonstop: Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Please, never stop.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06286-808-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

THE RAVAGED

This debut novel from Walking Dead actor Reedus follows three thematically connected yet narratively unrelated people as they journey to find themselves.

Hunter, a heavily tatted Iraq War vet and self-proclaimed gearhead, attacks his boss at the bike shop after catching him kicking a dog. “Hunter was old school,” the narrator says, rough-hewn but with strong moral fiber and a heart of gold. After learning his father died in a “mysterious house fire” in California, Hunter hops on his Buell S1 motorcycle alongside his buddies Nugget and Itch for a cross-country haul to execute the will. Meanwhile, a wealthy 65-year-old executive named Jack is mugged while traveling aimlessly through South America, neither the first nor the last of his hardships. Jack abandoned his cushy, bloodless office lifestyle after his dying mother told him to “run and never look back,” words he continuously labors to unpack. Finally, Anne, an abused teenage girl in Tennessee, steals her father’s savings and .38 revolver and runs away from home, clobbering her brother upside the head with a cast-iron skillet when he tries to stop her. She connects with her friend Trot, and they join a community of train-hoppers. Co-written by Bill, the story reads like a pastiche of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the latter of which is name-dropped as “great” by multiple characters. Though occasionally hitting some beautiful imagery of the American heartland, Reedus falls victim to implausible dialogue—“Fabiola, you are reading me like a stock report,” Jack says—and overcooked language: “flesh the color of a high-dollar medium-roast coffee bean.” Frequently wordy summaries do little to develop the thinly sketched characters; we know nearly as much about them on Page 25 as on Page 250.

A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-09-416680-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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