A bumpy collection of booze- and pill-soaked tales of desperation.

JUNK CITY

A volume of poetry and prose documents the dark lives of San Francisco’s drunks and strippers.

Life in San Francisco is a seemingly unending series of unpleasant incidents and disappointing outcomes. In one story, a bouncer must cope with the suicide of his father and his on-again, off-again relationship with a woman plagued by mental illness. In another, a man watches some amateur basketball at Kezar Stadium before barhopping and, later, drinking beer with his adult paperboy, a former basketball player. A drug dealer tries to win his wife back after his stash is discovered in her house, resulting in her losing her job and spending six days in jail. A man who has lost his job and his driver’s license rides a bicycle to get drunk at a bar, but once there, he’s forced to deal with the probing questions of an older man. The tales, often no more than a few pages, are filled with neighborhood characters and local geographies, sliding up and down Taraval Street or haunting the environs of Columbus and Green. Four of the stories follow the romantic adventures of the stripper and poet Eskimo and her locally famous brawler boyfriend, Joxer. They participate in billiard competitions, attempt to drop off poems at City Lights Bookstore, witness shootings in the local watering holes, and get arrested for crashing cars while drunk. Interspersed are poems supposedly written by Eskimo on similarly dark and mundane topics: pop songs, stains, tea, physical abuse. A sense of fatalism inhabits each piece, whether it ends in tragedy or merely the suggestion of tragedy. These are characters who will never escape their plights. In fact, many of them seem not even to want to.

Boilard’s prose deftly evokes the gritty minimalism of Thom Jones, Denis Johnson, and other bards of self-destruction and substance abuse: “The deejay introduces her as Eh, Eh, Eskimo. Joxer sits in the front row. She dances slow and sexy and sad to Johnny Cash doing his remake of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails and Joxer can’t believe it. He loves that version. It must be some kind of fate. When she finishes her routine, she sits on his lap and rubs cocaine into his upper gums with her index finger.” The poems are sparse and Beats-inspired. “Blackout” reads: “I was drunk / & / forgetting things / & falling / down & / we both / hated me / then.” They seem to exist mostly to supplement (and break up) the stories. While the tales are the main course, they feel no less derivative or overreaching. The men are mostly violent nihilists, the women mostly sexual ones. The San Francisco in which the stories are set—the eponymous “Junk City,” as one character calls it—seems to be simultaneously that of the 1950s, ’80s, and the 2010s: one in which bohemians still pay for rent bartending and dream of making enough money to “get out of this place.” While there are occasional moments of epiphany or stark imagery, such a book feels a bit outdated in 2020.

A bumpy collection of booze- and pill-soaked tales of desperation.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 225

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2020

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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

SOOLEY

Legal eagle and mystery maven Grisham shifts gears with a novel about roundball.

What possessed Grisham to stop writing about murder in the Spanish moss–dripping milieus of the Deep South is anyone’s guess, and why he elected to write about basketball, one might imagine, speaks to some deep passion for the game. The depth of that love doesn’t quite emerge in these pages, flat of affect, told almost as if a by-the-numbers biography of an actual player. As it is, Grisham invents an all-too-believable hero in Samuel Sooleymon, who plays his way out of South Sudan, a nation wrought by sectarian violence—Sooley is a Dinka, Grisham instructs, of “the largest ethnic class in the country,” pitted against other ethnic groups—and mired in poverty despite the relative opulence of the capital city of Juba, with its “tall buildings, vibrancy, and well-dressed people.” A hard-charging but heart-of-gold coach changes his life when he arrives at the university there, having been dismissed earlier as a “nonshooting guard.” Soon enough Sooley is sinking three-pointers with alarming precision, which lands him a spot on an American college team. Much of the later portion of Grisham’s novel bounces between Sooley’s on-court exploits, jaw-dropping as they are, and his efforts to bring his embattled family, now refugees from civil war, to join him in the U.S.; explains Grisham, again, “Beatrice and her children were Dinka, the largest tribe in South Sudan, and their strongman was supposedly in control of most of the country,” though evidently not the part where they lived. Alas, Sooley, beloved of all, bound for a glorious career in the NBA, falls into the bad company that sudden wealth and fame can bring, and it all comes crashing down in a morality play that has only the virtue of bringing this tired narrative to an end.

Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54768-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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