There’s a lot of verbal and postmodern high jinks in these 700-plus pages, and they will likely strain anyone’s patience and...

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NOVEL EXPLOSIVES

A man with amnesia and $20 million, a well-read venture capitalist adrift after a hot deal, and two drug lord gunmen combine to perform a time-twisting minuet in this big, brainy, trippy, Technicolor noir of a debut.

Take Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace at their densest, some Malcolm Lowry–esque south-of-the-border malevolence and lots of technobabble, financial arcana, and myriad ad hoc drivel sessions—that may start to suggest what Gauer is up to here. The core story is simple, but he breaks it up and reassembles it with two narrative voices, assorted time jumps, a cool shift in point of view, and a compulsion to spin out every basic element across dozens of pages while exploring the outré entries of the English lexicon. It begins with a man waking up in a Guanajuato, Mexico, hotel. He has a bump on his head and no memory of his identity. His wallet tells him he bears the same name as a pseudonym of the early-20th-century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (Gauer is a poet and, not incidentally, a venture capitalist). A local banker tells him he has almost $20 million in his account. When the narrative—covering the week of April 13 to 20 in 2009—shifts to the gunmen, they are assigned by their Shakespeare-quoting boss (“Guy’s like two-thirds Money, one-third Thesaurus”) to comb through El Paso and Juarez for a guy who has a lot of the boss’s money, part of a laundering operation that also somehow entails the VC’s latest hot and dubious deal. It’s only when the VC flies to El Paso and embarks on a phantasmagoric road trip south that key players and plot points begin to coalesce. The closing pages include one horrific scene that unfortunately is later replayed and an epic Mexican standoff that more or less starts with a man citing Ovid, Schopenhauer, and Heidegger within six lines.

There’s a lot of verbal and postmodern high jinks in these 700-plus pages, and they will likely strain anyone’s patience and commitment, but for readers who enjoy this kind of thing, it will be worth the effort.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 722

Publisher: Zerogram Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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