A compelling family tale with convincing, psychologically perceptive writing.

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A fractured family seeks a way out of a series of crises in this debut novel.

Tom Holder is a tenured professor of philosophy employed by Barnes College in Maine. He likes teaching but not writing and churns out “just enough pedagogical crap to maintain tenure.” He has recently completed the first draft of a book written with the intention of “lancing Trump with a sharp-edged pen” and pissing off “people in high places.” The latter objective is achieved immediately, as the work’s contents land Tom in the crosshairs of the “loathsome” college president, Amos Whitely. Meanwhile, Tom’s wife, Hannah, is discontent with being a stay-at-home mom. Before Tom received his tenure, she was the main breadwinner, working in a bank in Boston in a management training program. Her prospects of becoming a professional were derailed with the move to Maine, where she grew resentful of Tom’s success. Their children, Madison, 14, and Dillon, 15, have their own problems. Madison is the target of a homophobic slur in high school. Meanwhile, sophomore Dillon is brought home by a police officer after being caught drinking. The status quo of the family is further disrupted when Hannah decides to take the LSAT with the hope of returning to Boston and attending law school. Tom also learns that his estranged father, whom he has not seen in over 20 years, has been diagnosed with cancer. As pressures build, Tom and Hannah find their marriage under considerable strain.

The story is poignantly recounted in intimate alternate chapters from the perspectives of Tom and Hannah. Moot writes with a succinct eloquence, creating a cast of psychologically plausible characters. For instance, when Hannah learns that Madison has been called a “dyke” by a boy at school, the intensity of her shifting emotions is palpable: “Digest, process, breathe. Calm, thoughtful mother. No, fuck that. Rage. Protect your daughter. ‘I’m calling his mother.’ ” The chapters written from Tom’s point of view are sufficiently distinct in tenor to convince readers that the narrative is being delivered by a different person. Tom is contrastingly self-involved and self-pitying: “I rolled out of bed, fed Bart and let him out. A man’s best friend. A man’s only friend. I put on a pot of coffee and showered while it brewed.” Moments such as these capture an everyday routine with which most readers will be familiar, and the difficulties faced by the Holder family are easy to relate to. The reasons behind Tom’s becoming estranged from his father add an extra element of intrigue to an already strong plot, and Moot’s examination of family secrets and teenage rebellion proves thought-provoking. On rare occasions, Tom’s narrative feels stiff and contrived, as though it has been lifted from an academic study, although this may be an intentional reflection of his professional diction: “Religion supplies answers for some. It soothes our existential anxiety by reassuring us that there is a higher power with a larger plan.” This does not detract from a carefully conceived and sharply written novel with characters that are impossible not to root for.

A compelling family tale with convincing, psychologically perceptive writing.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73458-002-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Roads End Books LLC

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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