A lyrical but uneven tale about a restless writer.

AMERICAN BLASPHEMER

In this debut novel, a young man searches for meaning and morality in the vast canvas of New York City.

The son of two evangelical Republicans from Virginia—and the brother of two habitual users of psychedelics—John is a struggling writer in New York. But he’s not your average bohemian, in part because his faith in God keeps him away from sex and drugs—at least at first. He stops a girl from beating up her boyfriend on the street, then takes her back to his apartment where they disrobe but don’t sleep together because, to the virgin John, such an act would be “so vacant. There’s no human dignity in it. It’d be worse than masturbation.” Instead, he makes a speech about wanting a wife. (After trying to attack John with a knife, the girl admits to being molested by her uncle.) This is just one episode in this tale of incidental happenings: encountering a man dressed as a Buddhist monk in Times Square, attending a fight club, getting in arguments during jury duty, and going to the opera. John writes stories based on his experiences. In between, he manages a few trips to other places—Graceland, where his hero Elvis Presley lies entombed; a Los Angeles bookstore, where he witnesses a man vomit on the floor—but mostly he just roams New York and reacts to things he sees. Sometimes, his desire to split hairs and lecture people gets him into trouble—like right after Donald Trump is elected president and a fellow New Yorker suspects him of being a Trump supporter (which he never denies). The city challenges John in unexpected ways, forcing him to continuously reevaluate himself, his beliefs, his family, and his past.

Gillen’s prose is conversationally lyrical in the way of the Beats or Charles Bukowski. (He even includes a poem every few chapters.) Sometimes, he strikes upon a compelling image—usually when describing John’s childhood or the members of his family—but more often, the author tries a bit too hard. “I’ve been trying to figure out who Bob Dylan is for years,” John notes about one of his many (predictable) influences, “and it’s like trying to nail ayahuasca smoke to a rainbow waterfall. Like putting God in a box.” John’s project is that he’s seeking real experiences, but mostly it seems as if he’s doing things he thinks are artistic, such as sitting in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, waiting for something profound or colorful to happen. (John claims to have seen Taxi Driver “probably fifty times,” which explains a fair amount about the sort of young man he is.) Gillen’s anecdotes rarely get at any deeper truth or reach a satisfying conclusion. The instance with the naked girl fragments into a rather overripe poem at the end: “I never saw Sarah again. / But I cleaned up the glass. / And the blood. / And— / eventually— / we both died.” The tale includes some uncomfortable ranting about “mass emasculation” and other half-baked ideas, but the book’s main problem is simply that it reads like a 17-year-old’s concept of an artistic novel. While the story aims for grit and wisdom, older readers will find little of interest here.

A lyrical but uneven tale about a restless writer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-951937-12-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Epigraph Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

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Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

IT STARTS WITH US

The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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