An elusive but enchanting work by one of America’s greatest authors.

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THE CHANGELING

Beloved by some, maligned by others, Williams’ (The Visiting Privilege, 2015, etc.) second novel, first published in 1978, has a new 40th-anniversary edition.

We meet Pearl and her infant son, Sam, in a Florida bar. Pearl is drinking gin and tonics and having thoughts like this: “You cannot keep things the way they are. They go away. They change. There has never been an exception to this rule. No mercy has ever been shown.” She's running from her husband, Walker, on whose family’s private Northeastern island she has spent the previous year. She’s running because she does not want Sam raised under the influence of Walker’s brother, Thomas, a sinister “man of the world” who raises children (“a dozen…more or less”—none biologically his) “according to his interests.” Pearl, however, wants Sam “to be a simple child, her child. Not like the others...” who seem “like deadly little flowers to Pearl, budding Satans, quoting Dante before they lost their baby teeth.” But, drinking in the bar in Florida, Pearl knows that “Walker would find her.” She is correct. After Walker’s “caress [pushes] her halfway across the room,” they board a flight back north. But, in a classic Williams turn, the plane crashes into the Everglades, Walker is killed, and Pearl returns to the family's island with a child who may be Sam but may be some other, less-loving child—one infant exchanged for another in the aftermath of the crash. What follows is part fable and part drunken nightmare. (Indeed, the novel seems to intentionally defy categorization; one can never be sure that the register with which you’re reading is the register with which the book wants to be read.) It is a loose and uneasy tale of violence, innocence, childhood, motherhood, alcoholism, grief, origins, endings, comedy, murder, metamorphoses, and God. If that sounds like a lot, it is; but when a writer works with sentences like these, she can do what she wants: “Her feeling…was curved as a ball, a belly, a noose. There was no beginning to it. No end. Come unbidden. Part pain. Part comfort. That was love….To love was only to understand death.”

An elusive but enchanting work by one of America’s greatest authors.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-941040-89-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

THE ANDROMEDA EVOLUTION

Over 50 years after an extraterrestrial microbe wiped out a small Arizona town, something very strange has appeared in the Amazon jungle in Wilson’s follow-up to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

The microparticle's introduction to Earth in 1967 was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda. Now, an anomaly with “signature peaks” closely resembling the original Andromeda Strain has been spotted in the heart of the Amazon, and a Wildfire Alert is issued. A diverse team is assembled: Nidhi Vedala, an MIT nanotechnology expert born in a Mumbai slum; Harold Odhiambo, a Kenyan xenogeologist; Peng Wu, a Chinese doctor and taikonaut; Sophie Kline, a paraplegic astronaut and nanorobotics expert based on the International Space Station; and, a last-minute addition, roboticist James Stone, son of Dr. Jeremy Stone from The Andromeda Strain. They must journey into the deepest part of the jungle to study and hopefully contain the dire threat that the anomaly seemingly poses to humanity. But the jungle has its own dangers, and it’s not long before distrust and suspicion grip the team. They’ll need to come together to take on what waits for them inside a mysterious structure that may not be of this world. Setting the story over the course of five days, Wilson (Robopocalypse, 2011, etc.) combines the best elements of hard SF novels and techno-thrillers, using recovered video, audio, and interview transcripts to shape the narrative, with his own robotics expertise adding flavor and heft. Despite a bit of acronym overload, this is an atmospheric and often terrifying roller-coaster ride with (literally) sky-high stakes that pays plenty of homage to The Andromeda Strain while also echoing the spirit and mood of Crichton’s other works, such as Jurassic Park and Congo. Add more than a few twists and exciting set pieces (especially in the finale) to the mix, and you’ve got a winner.

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247327-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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