In this casual, colloquial translation, Barcelona between the wars is full of tawdry vitality, much like the novel itself.

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PRIVATE LIFE

First published in 1932 and newly translated into English, this is a satirical, multigenerational saga about the intricate relationship between Barcelona’s fading aristocracy and the city’s sordid demimonde.

“Aristocratic cynicism” and “decadence” are the subject matter. Digging deep into the crevices of the highborn Lloberola family while following its moral and financial disintegration, Catalan Sagarra displays none of his American contemporary Hemingway’s romanticism in his depiction of Spanish life. Frederic de Lloberola must be one of the least likable protagonists in fiction. As the novel opens, he's already regretting having had sex again with his former mistress Rosa, whom he dumped years ago to marry his rich wife. A hypocritical prig with little wit, imagination, or capacity to care about anyone, Frederic has already pawned his wife’s jewels and is less concerned with Rosa than with a note he can’t pay back to his wealthy acquaintance Antoni Mates. Fortunately for Frederic, Mates has a very dark sexual secret shared only by Frederic’s charming but amoral younger brother, Guillem, who blackmails the debt away with unexpected repercussions. Jump ahead five years, after the great crash, to the start of Republican rule. While Barcelona aristocracy is politically divided, society has become more heterogeneous. Frederic’s daughter Maria Lluisa works as a secretary. Unfortunately, her experiment in living as an independent woman doesn’t work out the way she—or the sympathetic reader—hopes. Expect murder, revenge, and fallings in and out of love as Sagarra tightens the initially loose connections among his characters. The novel comes most alive when the author digresses from his plot: in his characters' back stories, his ruminations on Spain’s socioeconomics, his cleverly vicious bons mots and descriptions (including men as black truffles among pink party dresses), and in some surprisingly graphic sex. Whether Sagarra is anti-Semitic and homophobic or commenting on those tendencies in his characters is troubling but unclear.

In this casual, colloquial translation, Barcelona between the wars is full of tawdry vitality, much like the novel itself.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-914671-26-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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