by John Matthew Gillen ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 21, 2020
A lyrical but uneven tale about a restless writer.
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
Page Count: 304
Publisher: Epigraph Publishing
Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020
Review Program: Kirkus Indie
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by James McBride ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 8, 2023
If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2023
New York Times Bestseller
McBride follows up his hit novel Deacon King Kong (2020) with another boisterous hymn to community, mercy, and karmic justice.
It's June 1972, and the Pennsylvania State Police have some questions concerning a skeleton found at the bottom of an old well in the ramshackle Chicken Hill section of Pottstown that’s been marked for redevelopment. But Hurricane Agnes intervenes by washing away the skeleton and all other physical evidence of a series of extraordinary events that began more than 40 years earlier, when Jewish and African American citizens shared lives, hopes, and heartbreak in that same neighborhood. At the literal and figurative heart of these events is Chona Ludlow, the forbearing, compassionate Jewish proprietor of the novel’s eponymous grocery store, whose instinctive kindness and fairness toward the Black families of Chicken Hill exceed even that of her husband, Moshe, who, with Chona’s encouragement, desegregates his theater to allow his Black neighbors to fully enjoy acts like Chick Webb’s swing orchestra. Many local White Christians frown upon the easygoing relationship between Jews and Blacks, especially Doc Roberts, Pottstown’s leading physician, who marches every year in the local Ku Klux Klan parade. The ties binding the Ludlows to their Black neighbors become even stronger over the years, but that bond is tested most stringently and perilously when Chona helps Nate Timblin, a taciturn Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of his community, conceal and protect a young orphan named Dodo who lost his hearing in an explosion. He isn’t at all “feeble-minded,” but the government wants to put him in an institution promising little care and much abuse. The interlocking destinies of these and other characters make for tense, absorbing drama and, at times, warm, humane comedy. McBride’s well-established skill with narrative tactics may sometimes spill toward the melodramatic here. But as in McBride’s previous works, you barely notice such relatively minor contrivances because of the depth of characterizations and the pitch-perfect dialogue of his Black and Jewish characters. It’s possible to draw a clear, straight line from McBride’s breakthrough memoir, The Color of Water (1996), to the themes of this latest work.If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?
Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023
Page Count: 400
Review Posted Online: May 9, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2023
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by Mitch Albom ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 14, 2023
A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.
Truth and deception clash in this tale of the Holocaust.
Udo Graf is proud that the Wolf has assigned him the task of expelling all 50,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece. In that city, Nico Krispis is an 11-year-old Jewish boy whose blue eyes and blond hair deceive, but whose words do not. Those who know him know he has never told a lie in his life—“Never be the one to tell lies, Nico,” his grandfather teaches him. “God is always watching.” Udo and Nico meet, and Udo decides to exploit the child’s innocence. At the train station where Jews are being jammed into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz, Udo gives Nico a yellow star to wear and persuades him to whisper among the crowd, “I heard it from a German officer. They are sending us to Poland. We will have new homes. And jobs.” The lad doesn’t know any better, so he helps persuade reluctant Jews to board the train to hell. “You were a good little liar,” Udo later tells Nico, and delights in the prospect of breaking the boy’s spirit, which is more fun and a greater challenge than killing him outright. When Nico realizes the horrific nature of what he's done, his truth-telling days are over. He becomes an inveterate liar about everything. Narrating the story is the Angel of Truth, whom according to a parable God had cast out of heaven and onto earth, where Truth shattered into billions of pieces, each to lodge in a human heart. (Obviously, many hearts have been missed.) Truth skillfully weaves together the characters, including Nico; his brother, Sebastian; Sebastian’s wife, Fannie; and the “heartless deceiver” Udo. Events extend for decades beyond World War II, until everyone’s lives finally collide in dramatic fashion. As Truth readily acknowledges, his account is loaded with twists and turns, some fortuitous and others not. Will Nico Krispis ever seek redemption? And will he find it? Author Albom’s passion shows through on every page in this well-crafted novel.A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.
Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2023
Page Count: 352
Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023
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