Mordantly morbid.

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THE CURFEW

Minimalist tale of a former violinist turned epitaph scribe, and his daughter.

More accessible than his last (The Way Through Doors, 2009), Ball’s third novel at least makes his characters’ predicament plain from the outset. A dystopian unnamed country and city are the setting. In this post-revolutionary state, systematic purges and bloodbaths have given way to everyday ambiguous incidents of what could be state-sponsored persecution or random street violence. It’s hard to tell, because the police have all become secret police—even their stations are undercover—and government agents are in disguise, principally from each other. William, who was once a virtuoso violinist before the symphonies were disbanded and music itself banned, now works writing epitaphs—quirky ones for people whose sole creative outlet these days is imagining what should be inscribed on their own or others’ tombstones. William’s 9-year-old daughter Molly is mute but gifted with a prodigious imagination. He has raised her ever since his wife Louisa was “disappeared” by the government years before. William and Molly lead a colorless but relatively placid existence, carefully avoiding drawing attention to themselves, especially by going out after evening curfew, when citizens not at home are deemed to be up to no good—whatever “good” is. However, a former friend recognizes him on the street and draws William back into a group of wine-drinking insurgents, with a promise of revelations about what really happened to Louisa. In a risky move, William leaves Molly with elderly neighbors and steals away to a subversive nighttime gathering, where he receives a precious contraband violin as well as a dossier on Louisa. As the night proceeds, Molly and the neighbors enact an elaborate puppet show, which elucidates her parents’ visionary legacy and provides her with a map of her future after the inevitable happens. In Ball’s delicately etched nightmare, there’s still room in the regime for ordinary comforts like pea soup—trouble is, the spoons are too small.

Mordantly morbid.

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-73985-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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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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A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

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A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA

Two refugees from the Spanish Civil War cross the Atlantic Ocean to Chile and a half-century of political and personal upheavals.

We meet Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera in 1938 as it is becoming increasingly clear that the Republican cause they support is doomed. When they reunite in France as penniless refugees, Roser has survived a harrowing flight across the Pyrenees while heavily pregnant and given birth to the son of Victor’s brother Guillem, killed at the Battle of the Ebro. Victor, evacuated with the wounded he was tending in a makeshift hospital, learns of a ship outfitted by poet Pablo Neruda to take exiles to a new life in Chile, but he and Roser must marry in order to gain a berth. Allende (In the Midst of Winter, 2017, etc.) expertly sets up this forced intimacy between two very different people: Resolute, realistic Roser never looks back and doggedly pursues a musical career in Chile while Victor, despite being fast-tracked into medical school by socialist politician Salvador Allende (a relative of the author's), remains melancholy and nostalgic for his homeland. Their platonic affection deepens into physical love and lasting commitment in an episodic narrative that reaches a catastrophic climax with the 1973 coup overthrowing Chile’s democratically elected government. For Victor and Roser, this is a painful reminder of their losses in Spain and the start of new suffering. The wealthy, conservative del Solar family provides a counterpoint to the idealistic Dalmaus; snobbish, right-wing patriarch Isidro and his hysterically religious wife, Laura, verge on caricature, but Allende paints more nuanced portraits of eldest son Felipe, who smooths the refugees’ early days in Chile, and daughter Ofelia, whose brief affair with Victor has lasting consequences. Allende tends to describe emotions and events rather than delve into them, and she paints the historical backdrop in very broad strokes, but she is an engaging storyteller. A touching close in 1994 brings one more surprise and unexpected hope for the future to 80-year-old Victor.

A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2015-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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