SOLSTICE

A NOVEL

In her early fiction, Oates often displayed a sharp talent for the texture and rhythm of psychological obsession—but this study of the feverish friendship between two women is unconvincing, thin and artificial, from start to finish. The novel is presented from the viewpoint of Monica Jensen, a 30-ish, fair, rather repressed sort who takes a teaching job at a private boys' school in rural Pennsylvania—largely in order to recover from her recent bad-marriage, which has left physical scars (an abortion, a small facial scar from a fight) as well as emotional ones. But soon Monica meets her temperamental opposite: dark, artistic, sensual, hedonistic Sheila Trask, 42—a semi-famous painter, widow of a famous sculptor, a local landowner. And immediately Monica feels,"the tug of a powerful attraction," elated when Sheila seems to take an interest in her: "Monica knew secretly that her capacity for love—for love and what is meant by 'passion'—was deficient set beside Sheila Trask's". . . while Sheila seems equally awed by Monica's good-natured, competent, "blond optimism." The women begin talking together regularly; Monica dotes on Sheila's visits, gawks over Sheila's artistic talent; she even tags along when Sheila dons working-class disguise to engage in bar-and-grill flirtations with truckers. (The novel catches fire briefly here.) The friendship quickly sours, however—as the other side of Sheila's artistic soul emerges: combative, insecure, alcoholic, suicidal. Monica breaks away, reenters the safe, superficial world she lived in before. But something is missing—and when a needy Sheila makes a bid to rekindle the relationship, Monica eagerly agrees, but on new terms. "Now she would be cautious—she would be in control," as Monica becomes Sheila's indispensable confidant/helpmeet and the friendship edges toward open eroticism. . . but then plunges Monica into a nightmare of rape, illness, and self-exposure. Neither of the women here is credibly drawn; nor are they persuasive as polar "types." And Oates' prose belabors each point repetitiously—making this often read like a heavily padded short story. Mildly intriguing at the start, then increasingly murky and tiresome.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1984

ISBN: 0865381003

Page Count: 223

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1984

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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