A bit off-kilter as a coming-of-age story, but it succeeds as an account of an American abroad trying to escape—and see...



A recent graduate ditches Buffalo, New York, for a monthslong stay in a Mexican college town in this novel.

William James dreads the thought of a workaday life as a teacher, so at age 23 he accepts an invitation from his friend Salvatore Juarez and heads down to Mexico. The plan is to party, fall in love, enjoy the warm weather, and escape Buffalo. But, as Will wryly notes, “No one truly leaves Buffalo.” In the tropical town of Lila, he moves into a scorpion-infested house and immerses himself in the local expatriate scene, which largely comprises students, volcanologists, and an inordinate number of Germans. His life becomes one of nightly parties, awful bars, sketchy street festivals, and massive amounts of alcohol. Will fights through the horrors of his Roman Catholic upbringing to overcome shame and self-doubt, helped by Luz Oscura, a head-turning college student who becomes his girlfriend. With funds running low, Will gets inconsistent work teaching English but still manages to travel, visiting quaint Guanajuato and pricey Puerto Vallarta. Luz, unfazed by his volatile lifestyle and moments of irrationality, plays just enough games to keep the boorish yet insecure Will hot on her trail. Will wants to see Mexico from the inside, and he largely succeeds in experiencing its wonders, though he remains hampered by significant gringo bashing. As he plots a final trip around the country with Luz, he feels his future is more up in the air than ever. LaPoma (Developing Minds, 2015, etc.) obviously knows Mexico well, framing the nation not by its problems but by the hearts of its people. Will is hardly perfect, but his job teaching English to children shows him at his best and most dedicated while also giving insights into the economic issues that plague the country. The numerous party scenes tend to bog down in detail, but the descriptions of Mexican locales are as vibrant, colorful, and illuminating as the novel’s unique characters (“There were great open fields of tall grass with fires burning in the distance, whose flames leapt off the world like brilliant localized solar flares”). The author can write about serious things with humor, and Will’s tale shows an understanding of Mexico that goes beyond the ordinary.

A bit off-kilter as a coming-of-age story, but it succeeds as an account of an American abroad trying to escape—and see beyond—the tourist traps.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9988403-0-7

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Almendro Arts

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2017

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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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