A cultured, witty, and very British attack on vapid reality TV values, set in an empty-souled tomorrow.

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ALWAYS GREENER

In this debut novel, a reality TV game show in the future seeks out pathetic individuals while its host loses enthusiasm for his tawdry job.

In London in 2072, Liam Argyle is an undistinguished, aging bachelor, meteorologist/gamer, unexpectedly cast as the host of Grass Is Greener on a network subsidiary of the all-dominating, Rupert Murdoch-esque RedCorp. This behemoth streams programs directly to the augmented reality implants people carry in their eyeballs or spectacles. GiG immerses viewers in point-of-view feeds from working-class folks with the most demeaning lives and careers. Viewer votes eliminate wretched contestants until the most deserving one wins an elite, off-planet life. Subjects include Liam’s old university political science professor, fearful of losing his position; a one-armed Cuban refugee who contracts illnesses as a medical test subject; a kvetching woman who cleans suicide scenes; a loathsome functionary who denies health care to the poor; and a husky Native American, the United States’ last flesh-and-blood porn star amid robots. Lawless is an admirer of Douglas Adams but the tale’s relationship to the riotous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is mostly in footnotes that expound wryly on word origins, cultural asides, or non sequiturs. Once Mars resorts and sex droids are factored out, Lawless’ story skews more toward Evelyn Waugh’s urbane savagery or boardroom and business satires like Ernie Kovac’s novel Zoomar. Liam eventually balks at the cruel choices made by the Machiavellian show’s creators (a comatose, cancer-stricken contestant is allowed to lie unaided in the street). Even Liam is subject to humiliatingly staged nonevents and injury in bids for high AR viewership. Yesteryear’s SF authors could be eerily accurate in predicting reality TV, but in the context of entertainment centered on murder and death. Lawless’ clever novel reflects the present day’s digital media voyeurism and Survivor/Big Brother exploitation—no camera-equipped hit men, but still sardonic, with an ultimately dark outlook on the amoral peddling of schadenfreude, Thanatos, and boffo ratings. The work skews close enough to the real thing to make readers uncomfortable and perhaps wish for a little of Stephen King’s The Running Man, where the answer is to blow the whole place up. Liam is an especially feckless hero and practically useless as a rebel against the system. There is a hint this will change in a sequel. 

A cultured, witty, and very British attack on vapid reality TV values, set in an empty-souled tomorrow.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-949671-04-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: Uproar Books, LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 29, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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