Family secrets bloom into nightmares in these skillful, chilling stories.

Creeping dread and dark violence haunt parents and children in four novellas of suspense.

In her latest collection, the indefatigable Oates returns to the theme of parents and what they will—or won’t—do to protect their children. The title novella is the story of Clare Seidel, an art historian in her 30s. Adopted as a toddler, she’s never been curious about her birth family until, out of the blue, she receives a call from a lawyer in the (fictional) Maine town of Cardiff, informing her that a grandmother she’s never heard of has died and left her a bequest. Soon she has discovered an eccentric trio of living relatives as well as the terrifying story of her long-dead immediate family. But every answer she gets about her past only raises new questions, and dangers. In Miao Dao, 12-year-old Mia is having a rough year. After her parents divorce, her mother finds a new man who makes the girl uneasy. Mia is also disturbed by the physical changes that adolescence brings. Her only solace is a nearby colony of feral cats, from which she rescues a tiny white kitten with strange black eyes that might or might not be her savior. Phantomwise: 1972 is the story of Alyce, a bright but naïve college student. She becomes involved with both her ambitious young philosophy professor and her kindly, older writing professor, a famous poet who tells her she reminds him of the girl in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. When she becomes pregnant, she goes down a very bad rabbit hole. The literary allusion that haunts The Surviving Child is the life and death of poet Sylvia Plath. In Oates’ fictional take, the poet is N.K., a brilliant, successful, but troubled woman. The story takes place several years after the murder-suicide that killed N.K. and her toddler daughter but left her young son alive. Told from the point of view of Elisabeth, who becomes the second wife of N.K.’s formidable husband, it’s a twisted tale of toxic patriarchy.

Family secrets bloom into nightmares in these skillful, chilling stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5799-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020


Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

A much-beloved author gives a favorite recurring character her own novel.

Holly Gibney made her first appearance in print with a small role in Mr. Mercedes (2014). She played a larger role in The Outsider (2018). And she was the central character in If It Bleeds, a novella in the 2020 collection of the same name. King has said that the character “stole his heart.” Readers adore her, too. One way to look at this book is as several hundred pages of fan service. King offers a lot of callbacks to these earlier works that are undoubtedly a treat for his most loyal devotees. That these easter eggs are meaningless and even befuddling to new readers might make sense in terms of costs and benefits. King isn’t exactly an author desperate to grow his audience; pleasing the people who keep him at the top of the bestseller lists is probably a smart strategy, and this writer achieved the kind of status that whatever he writes is going to be published. Having said all that, it’s possible that even his hardcore fans might find this story a bit slow. There are also issues in terms of style. Much of the language King uses and the cultural references he drops feel a bit creaky. The word slacks occurs with distracting frequency. King uses the phrase keeping it on the down-low in a way that suggests he probably doesn’t understand how this phrase is currently used—and has been used for quite a while. But the biggest problem is that this narrative is framed as a mystery without delivering the pleasures of a mystery. The reader knows who the bad guys are from the start. This can be an effective storytelling device, but in this case, waiting for the private investigator heroine to get to where the reader is at the beginning of the story feels interminable.

Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9781668016138

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023


Lots of violent action with little payoff.

Jack Ryan Jr. is back to risk life and limb in saving a teenage girl from international killers while his father, U.S. President Jack Ryan Sr., figures out what to do with Iran’s clandestine uranium enrichment facility, hidden in a mine.

Junior, head of the secret intelligence outfit The Campus, which was functionally wiped out in Tom Clancy Flash Point (2023), is heading across Texas to a rendezvous with his fiancee, Lisanne Robertson, a one-armed former Marine and cop. He’s waylaid by the aftermath of a multi-vehicle accident that he discovers resulted from a gun attack that left a driver hanging on for life, and now puts Jack in the crosshairs of the gunmen. A tip leads him to a 4 a.m. meeting with Amanda, a single mom whose impetuous daughter, Bella, has run off with her highly undesirable boyfriend only to be abducted by the baddies. the nation’s capital, American surveillance has determined that Iran is on the cusp of nuclear armament. The only way to stop them is unleashing an unpiloted and untested super plane with massive destructive power. The book’s treatment of Iran’s “existential threat to the entire globe” as a subplot is rather curious, to say the least. You keep waiting for Bentley to connect the two stories, but that happens only superficially. Late in the book, we are told as an afterthought that Iran’s immediate threat had been “mitigated.” Unfortunately, there is no mitigation of the novel’s hackneyed prose—"The analytical portion of Jack’s brain couldn’t help but be impressed.”

Lots of violent action with little payoff.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9780593422816

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023

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