An intelligent, deeply felt, quirky, and original novel that lives up to its ambitions.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

READ REVIEW

THE THEORETICS OF LOVE

A forensic anthropologist encounters a series of complicated interconnections in this novel.

Dr. Clarissa Circle, an English major–turned–forensic anthropologist, has a mantra: “No one ever touches anyone.” She insists on it as her guiding principle, but it’s often questioned by other characters and tested by events, which connect to one another in numerous ways. In 1999, at age 32, Clarissa begins her first postdoctoral job as a new professor at the University of Kentucky. When a “puzzling glut of ritual murders” occurs in the area, Clarissa becomes a consultant to the Lexington police. She and Sgt. Willy Cox begin a relationship that’s later rocked by mutual infidelities and jealousies. Clarissa analyzes skeletons found in a mass grave, which could relate to a rumored “blood cult” from the early 1970s. These rumors are confirmed by Methuselah, a former hippie who attended the university in that era. In a local forest shack, two dead bodies are discovered that have been there for a considerable length of time—an apparent double suicide. Meanwhile, a mentally ill man stalks a female student; another woman lives in his boardinghouse whom Clarissa dubs “Petite Artiste,” as she often stands outside and sketches Clarissa’s rented house—the same house where a woman whose body was found at the mass gravesite used to live. Another female boarder is romantically obsessed with the artist and secretly follows her. At the same time, three English students share a house—seemingly a separate story, yet their lives have points of connection with other characters, too. And an old man becomes a Lexington street-corner prophet, his stream of phrases taken as oracular by growing crowds. As these various mysteries and relationships unfold, are solved, remain obscure, or end in violence or romance, characters consider the nature of chance and patterns. Along the way, Taylor (Pineapple, 2017, etc.) tells an entertainingly complicated, interwoven story that is, by turns, funny, horrifying, and tender. Philosophy, physics, literature, and historical events, such as the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath, all play roles, making this a novel of ideas as well as a complex murder mystery. One of its chief ideas is the question of how much people actually contribute to pattern-making rather than simply perceiving it. At one point, for instance, Methuselah, in a spot that was once occupied by a Civil War monument, comments on the “fermenting connection among a renegade Confederate general, his stallion, a methhead, and a hoary-haired gent babbling unrelated babbles. Obviously, my friend Willy the dashing detective was getting to me with his Jungian synchronicities.” Different narrators, each with his or her own style, swap around storytelling duties, providing checks on different points of view as well as skillful revelations of character. It is somewhat disappointing when it’s revealed that a key to Clarissa’s character is repressed childhood trauma, which feels like an overused plot device. However, this is a relative quibble among so much inventive brio.

An intelligent, deeply felt, quirky, and original novel that lives up to its ambitions.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-58838-330-3

Page Count: 376

Publisher: NewSouth

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

Did you like this book?

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2017

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

more