An enigmatic, elegant meditation on the end of civilization—if end it truly is.

HARROW

A memorable return for renowned storyteller Williams after a lengthy absence from long-form fiction.

“Something definitely had gone wrong. Even the dead were dismayed.” Something has gone wrong indeed, but in her first novel in 20 years, Williams doesn’t reveal the precise contours of what that something is. There are portents at the outset as the young girl known first as Lamb, then as Khristen, contemplates a bit of family lore recounting that as a newborn she was resuscitated after having stopped breathing and, thus reborn, “was destined for something extraordinary.” So Khristen’s mother believes, in any event, sending her to a boarding school where, Khristen says, “my situation would be appreciated and the alarming gift I had been given properly acknowledged.” Instead, the school dries up, for by Khristen's third year there are no incoming students. Why? There’s no resolution in sight anywhere in Williams’ deliberately paced pre–post-apocalyptic novel: All the reader knows is that something is definitely off, signaled by such moments as when a fellow student, asked to contemplate an orange while pondering creativity, protests, “I haven’t tasted an orange in years.” Khristen takes her place in an odd community on a “razed resort” alongside a dying lake known as Big Girl, populated by the likes of a gifted, spooky 10-year-old and a Vicodin-swilling matriarch named Lola. If nothing else, the place has a working bowling alley, one good place to await doomsday. As the clock ticks away, Williams seeds her story with allusions to Kafka, bits of Greek mythology, philosophical notes on the nature of tragedy, and gemlike description (“He was in excellent physical condition, lean with rage”), and all along with subtly sardonic humor: Williams’ imagined world of the near future is so thoroughly corporatized that even the blades of wind turbines have advertisements on them, and she offers a useful phrase for obituaries to come: “What did he die of?” one character asks, meeting the reply: “Environmental issues.”

An enigmatic, elegant meditation on the end of civilization—if end it truly is.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-65756-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Franzen’s intensely absorbing novel is amusing, excruciating, and at times unexpectedly uplifting—in a word, exquisite.

CROSSROADS

This first novel in an ambitious trilogy tracks a suburban Chicago family in a time of personal and societal turmoil.

It says a lot that, at almost 600 pages, Franzen’s latest novel, set amid the waning years of the Vietnam War, leaves you wanting more. That it does so is also very good news: It’s the first in what promises to be a sprawling trilogy, continuing to the present day, which the author has titled A Key to All Mythologies in what is presumably a wink at its far-from-modest ambitions—yes, à la Middlemarch. That reference is classic Franzen, who imbues his books with big ideas, in this case about responsibility to family, self, God, country, and one’s fellow man, among other matters, all the while digging deep into his characters’ emotions, experiences, desires, and doubts in a way that will please readers seeking to connect to books heart-first. Here, the story follows two generations of the Hildebrandt family, headed by Russ, the associate pastor of a church in the fictional town of New Prospect, Illinois, who, when we first meet him in the lead-up to Christmas 1971, is nursing a crush on a recently widowed parishioner and a grudge against the groovily charismatic leader of the church’s popular youth group, Crossroads, in which three of Russ’ four children are variously involved. Russ’ wife, Marion, who has gained weight over the years and lost her pre-maternal intensity and with it her husband’s sexual interest, is nursing a few secret preoccupations of her own, as are the couple’s three oldest children, Clem, Becky, and Perry. Each of the five characters, among whose perspectives Franzen adroitly toggles, is struggling with matters of morality and integrity, privilege and purpose, driven in part by the dueling desires for independence and connection. Their internal battles—to fight in an unjust war or unjustly let others fight in your stead, to fight their way out of a marriage or fight to stay in it, to fight for sanity or surrender to madness, to fight to define themselves and determine their paths or to cede that control to others, to name a few—are set against the backdrop of an era in which “love” is everywhere but empathy is in short supply, where hugs are liberally dispensed but real connection’s harder to come by.

Franzen’s intensely absorbing novel is amusing, excruciating, and at times unexpectedly uplifting—in a word, exquisite.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-18117-8

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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