A haunting vision of post-'60s malaise whose narrator somehow retains his humor, compassion, and even optimism in the wake...

REVOLUTIONARIES

A grown-up child of the 1960s looks back in anger, seasoned with retroactive awe, at his mercurial father, a legendary activist and counterculture icon.

It will be all but impossible for readers of a certain age to wander far into this elegiac monologue about family upheaval, political tumult, and ruined hopes without thinking of Yippie co-founder Abbie Hoffman (1936-1989), who challenged the political establishment in the '60s with anarchic humor, incendiary rhetoric, and heedless mischief. Most (if not quite all) of the things that happen in this novel to the irrepressible Lenny Snyder, from his glory days as street-level activist and counterculture superstar to his early-1970s period on the run from drug-related criminal charges, happened in real life to Hoffman. Playwright Furst, who displayed wit and empathy dealing with youthful protagonists in Short People (2003) and The Sabotage Café (2007), filters Lenny’s life through the childhood reminiscences of his grown-up son, Fred, short for “Freedom,” who was literally conceived by Lenny and his wife, Suzy, on the grounds of Central Park's Sheep Meadow minutes after they were married in front of “four thousand witnesses tripping on acid and a photographer from the Associated Press.” At first, Fred, along with everybody in Lenny’s orbit, is enthralled with his dad’s “cracked-whip cackle,” rapid-fire patter, and physical courage. But the older Fred gets, the more bewildered he is by Lenny’s mood swings and the verbal abuse and offhand neglect he visits upon those closest to him, whether it’s Fred’s mother, the novel’s most heartbreaking character, or folk singer Phil Ochs, who’s a very close second as he always shows up to help, despite his estrangement from Lenny and his own physical and psychological decline, wherever Suzy and Fred are struggling to live after Lenny’s deep dive into the underground. Other real-life characters come into view, including Allen Ginsberg, William Kunstler, and Jerry Rubin, though Rubin's thinly disguised persona appears under the name Sy Neuman. But what raises this book far above being a roman à clef are the vivid scenes of Fred trying to have a normal childhood in gray, grimy Nixon-era New York City and of him and his mother finding solace with each other as they watch Lenny drift away from them, literally and figuratively.

A haunting vision of post-'60s malaise whose narrator somehow retains his humor, compassion, and even optimism in the wake of the most crushing disillusionment.

Pub Date: April 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-307-27114-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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