Few short story writers do as much in so few words as the economical, enigmatic Oates.

THE (OTHER) YOU

Crackling with pent-up emotion and deadly devices, a suite of neatly intertwining stories by a masterful storyteller.

“Whichever side the Professor espoused in an issue, the wife felt obliged to take the opposite side. Sometimes in the midst of their squabbles the wife lost interest abruptly and allowed the subject to fade.” If Oates has a trademark theme, it is in people talking past and against each other instead of getting a clue. In the first story in this collection, a woman, addressed in the second person, who has given up most of her dreams to live in a small town near Buffalo, “gnawing at your embittered heart,” thinks only fleetingly about what might have been. Though she seems to have accepted her lot, we have reason to think that, now late in life, she might have regrets. So does the woman who goes to a place the reader will see several times, the Purple Onion Café, where something terrible will happen. It would be a spoiler to say what, but Oates expertly folds the episode up in a Twilight Zone–ish wrinkle in time, one that we will return to at several points. One character dies in a way of which Edward Gorey would surely approve; most, in these stories laden with somber meditations on death (“For when ‘hospice’ is uttered, it is at last acknowledged—There is no hope”), succumb to the ordinary: cancer, accidents, and now terrorism. “Their friends and neighbors are collapsing all around them!” ponders one academic, aging but not yet old, who has been playing a parlor game of sorts in guessing whom the Reaper will harvest first. In the end, not many people in Yewville or the leafy suburbs of New York make it out of Oates’ pages without at least a few scars, and the Purple Onion suffers plenty of dings as well, which makes it a book that seems just right for the times.

Few short story writers do as much in so few words as the economical, enigmatic Oates.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-303520-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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