Half rollicking sendup of celebrity philanthropy and half meaningful meditation on marriage, friendship, family, and...

BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

Work woes and fertility issues, female friendships and marital challenges are among the factors at play in this satirical novel.

Some of the details of the day-to-day life of Jen, the overly accommodating protagonist of Winter’s debut novel, will sound all too familiar to many young women: the cavalier (not to say cruel) treatment she receives at the company where she works, a vanity charitable foundation that purports to empower women while robbing Jen of her own sense of self; the sweet husband she dearly loves yet wishes was more of an economic provider; the college friends she feels closest to but can’t help envying; the struggle to conceive a child—in Jen’s terms, a “hypothetical tiny future boarder”; and the squelched yearning for some kind of self-actualization, although Jen and her crew would probably dismiss the very concept as sounding too much like something Leora Infinitas, the TV sitcom star–cum-socialite who heads the nonprofit at which Jen works, would hold a board meeting to discuss. When she’s not toiling away at her pointless job—her chief duties are writing memos no one reads; devising acronyms no one likes; and reading the heartfelt, meandering musings of the privileged women Jen and her caustic-yet-caring work pal, Daisy, have dubbed “the Judys”—Jen makes art and is actually a gifted portraitist. Her work evokes the hidden, perhaps happy, perhaps sinister inner lives of her subjects, and over the course of the novel she finally begins to get a handle on her own inner life. While at times the story veers uneasily between the broadly farcical and intimately emotional, it gains momentum as it goes along. At a certain point, Winter’s hold on the plot, her characters, and, as a result, her readers becomes surer as it leads to its satisfying conclusion.

Half rollicking sendup of celebrity philanthropy and half meaningful meditation on marriage, friendship, family, and adulthood, Winter’s curious, captivating novel seems to teeter at times between split purposes but ultimately finds a pleasing balance.

Pub Date: July 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94613-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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