Wray is paying appropriate respect to the matters of gender and religion he’s taken on. But the narrative is also subsumed...



A young woman heads to the Middle East for spiritual guidance but instead encounters the violent side of jihadism.

Wray’s fifth novel (The Lost Time Accidents, 2016, etc.) keeps its narrative lens firmly trained on Aden Grace Sawyer, a young woman who leaves her Northern California home with her boyfriend, Decker, to enter a men-only madrasa in Peshawar, Pakistan, trusting that her boyish frame and crew cut are a sufficient disguise. Her commitment to Islam is intense, though the source of her conversion is vague. Her father is a scholar of the religion, but he strenuously disapproves of her decision. “You have disappointments in store, I’m afraid,” he intones. Dad is right, though her disillusionment happens slowly, naturally—and, to Wray’s credit, without hackneyed caricatures of violent terrorists or trite gender-swap plot twists. There are linguistic and cultural barriers that are difficult to cross (her teachers don’t quite get that her father is a scholar of Islam but not an adherent), Decker is increasingly absent, and she suspects he’s increasingly involved in fighting on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. If so much deception is going on, Aden (and Wray) wonders, what room is there for spiritual seeking? In the novel’s second half, Aden increasingly becomes witness to and participant in violence, though Wray’s tone is so restrained and muted the effect of such events feels more like moral disappointments than emotional crises. (Letters home from Aden, written in a snappish tone, have a little more blood in them.) Indeed, it’s a stylistic counterpoint to Wray’s previous novel, the ungainly, loose-limbed The Lost Time Accidents. But as Aden’s crisis comes to a head, some recklessness would be welcome.

Wray is paying appropriate respect to the matters of gender and religion he’s taken on. But the narrative is also subsumed by its own gravitas.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-16470-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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