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CLOSER TO FINE

A warmhearted exploration of modern love with considerable psychological and philosophical insights.

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In this coming-of-age novel set in 1995, a young woman starting graduate studies struggles with the vagaries of relationships, sexual orientation, and faith.

At the age of 23, Rachel Levine moves to Boston to begin a doctoral program in clinical psychology and to live with her 86-year-old grandfather, an observant Jew coping with the loss of his beloved wife. The two have a close bond, and Rachel serves as a needed companion but must keep parts of her life hidden. While she regularly accompanies Zayde (the Yiddish word for grandfather) to his synagogue, she is under strict instructions from her mother not to reveal to him her bisexual orientation. When she falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Liz Abraham, a brilliant young member of the congregation, she conceals it from him. The book examines the shifting plates of the religious community—more involvement of women and non-Jews in the rituals, to the consternation of Zayde. In her clinical training, under careful supervision, Rachel is learning how to enable her patients to handle change in their lives. Meanwhile, she becomes increasingly anxious about the uncertainties she faces. She is not confident about Liz’s commitment to her; her parents are uncomfortable with her bisexuality; and she fails to foresee some serious problems with a favorite patient. Her own experience with a skilled therapist grants her tremendous insights as she navigates some very rough waters. Rosenfeld’s novel is framed by events from 2019, indicating that Rachel has successfully achieved significant career and personal goals. Much time is spent on elaborate discussions of Jewish observance and beliefs, such as washing and sitting with a body between death and burial. The pacing flags at times for secular readers when these descriptions venture into the esoteric. The early romance of Rachel and Liz is a high point described with humor and zest. On an early date, Rachel explains to Liz that she doesn’t like spicy dishes but does love trying new foods, with the unspoken subtext: “I’m not into leather but don’t think that means I’m boring in bed.” The book’s descriptions of psychological disorders and treatments, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, are informative and extremely readable. Rachel’s therapist, Kevin Miller, summarizes the story’s message succinctly: “Rachel, the notion that we can have complete certainty about anything is a lie.”

A warmhearted exploration of modern love with considerable psychological and philosophical insights.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64742-059-8

Page Count: 280

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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