A smart and rangy yarn: file under suspense, horror, and domestic drama.

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UNIVERSAL HARVESTER

A clutch of adulterated rental cassettes pushes two video-store workers into a journey of discovery.

Nevada, Iowa, circa 2000: Jeremy is drowsing through his job at Video Hut when patrons start tipping him to VHS tapes with eerie scenes spliced in. There's just some darkness and breathing in one, but another alarmingly depicts someone painting runic figures on a hooded person. In the era of The Blair Witch Project, it’s easy to fear the worst. But instead of contacting the authorities, Jeremy and his boss, Sarah Jane, conduct a freelance investigation that draws Sarah Jane to an isolated farm that seems to match the scenes; in short order, Sarah Jane is cohabitating with its sole occupant, Lisa. Singer/songwriter Darnielle’s second novel (Wolf in White Van, 2014) opens like a dark suspense story; his descriptions of the VHS scenes are written in a deadpan style to evoke maximum dread. But he ultimately pursues a softer and more nuanced exploration of family and loss. Pointedly, both Jeremy and Lisa have lost their mothers, one to a car accident, another to a religious cult, and Darnielle is interested in the ways they fill their emotional gaps through work, art, or spiritual seeking. Darnielle’s prose is consistently graceful and empathetic, though plotwise the novel sometimes sputters: the story of Lisa’s mother, for instance, is buried in exposition that sheds little light on her motivations for abandoning her family. (And even if the point is that such things are unknowable, it takes a long time to get there.) Regardless, Darnielle is operating mainly on a metaphorical plane, and by setting his novel in the be-kind-rewind era, he makes an affecting point that so much of what we know, feel, and remember about our families disappears too easily, as if stored on media we lack the devices to play.

A smart and rangy yarn: file under suspense, horror, and domestic drama.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-90062-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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