A good old-fashioned read on the venerable theme of marriage.

CARNEGIE HILL

The secret lives of the board members and service staff of a stuffy old apartment building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan are full of drama.

Upon moving into the Chelmsford Arms with her rich, handsome, but oddly irritating asset manager fiance, Penelope "Pepper" Bradford takes a position on the building's board in hopes of meeting people and developing job prospects better than answering phones in her mother's friend's third-tier art gallery. She is the youngest person by far on the board, a coterie of moth-eaten old farts ruled by the ancient Patricia Cooper—"Empress Pat. The Czarina. The Duchess of Carnegie Hill"—and her crazed Pomeranian, with assistance from an elderly housekeeper who is the only African American in the building save the young gay porter, Caleb. The board's main function seems to be to preserve the all-white, no-children makeup of the building, to ensure that none but a short list of overpriced, incompetent contractors ever crosses the threshold, and to prevent tap-dancing, parakeets, and other violations of decency. Despite her early doubts, Pepper becomes close with several of her neighbors. Francis (a philosophical and literary Jewish man) and his wife, Carol, have hit a rough spot in their marriage of 50 years, as have George and Birdie (retired boss and secretary from Montreal), and serious health and mental health issues are cropping up everywhere. As Pepper prepares for her wedding to Rick—and then recovers from it—she can find little inspiration for her long-term marital prospects. The only happy couple in the building is made up of two men, the porter and the doorman, and they are so deep in the closet that nobody knows it. By the end of the book it's time for another board election; Patricia's reign of "corruption and thievery" may be over at last. She appears "holding her sleeping Pomeranian like a muff," wearing "a long red douppioni-silk coat embroidered with dragons"—ready to do battle. Will the Chelmsford Arms and its residents move at last into the 21st century? Vatner's debut novel is absorbing and comforting in its omniscient perspective and delicate handling of its carousel of characters.

A good old-fashioned read on the venerable theme of marriage.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-17476-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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THE GREAT ALONE

In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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