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IF I SURVIVE YOU

A fine debut that looks at the complexities of cultural identity with humor, savvy, and a rich sense of place.

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A collection of linked stories focused on one family’s tempest-tossed journeys in Jamaica and Florida.

Escoffery’s sharp and inventive debut largely focuses on Trelawny, the bookish son of Jamaican parents whose place in the world is complex both physically (he’s homeless for a time) and ethnically. In Jamaica, his light-skinned, mixed-race parents feel superior to those with darker skin; growing up in Miami, he’s mistaken as Dominican; in college in the Midwest, he becomes “unquestionably Black.” In the finely tuned opening story, “In Flux,” Trelawny’s efforts to nail down an identity frustrates both himself and others; he’s at the center of a question he has a hard time answering and few others want to face. That uncertainty follows him throughout the book as he squabbles with his father and older brother for their esteem. He’s also forced to take peculiar and/or degrading jobs to make ends meet: He answers Craigslist ads for a woman who wants a black eye and a couple who want a stereotypically Black man to watch them having sex. Not that the rest of his family has it much better—his older brother, Delano, is a struggling musician working on the side in a shady landscape business, and the much-fought-for family home in Miami is sinking through its foundation. (Delano’s thoughts capture the mood of futility: “You try to make a situation better, only to make it worse. Better to do nothing.”) But if Escoffery’s characters are ambivalent, his writing is clever, commanding, and flexible—he’s comfortable in first and second person, standard English and Jamaican patois, Miami ethnic enclaves and white-bread high rises. And he writes thoughtfully about how the exterior forces that have knocked Trelawny’s family sideways—Hurricane Andrew, poverty, racism—intersect with and stoke interior fears and bouts of self-loathing.

A fine debut that looks at the complexities of cultural identity with humor, savvy, and a rich sense of place.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-374-60598-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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