An intriguing, multifaceted story that needs polish.

THE ELIZABETHS

In this cross-dimensional novel, Mowery juxtaposes three versions of Elizabeth Ann Anderson, which differ by much more than haircut.

The month of June packs years’ worth of tension and shock for Liz, Beth and Eliza, each of whom resides in a beach house connected to her childhood. Shortly before each woman loses her past or present significant other, lengthy, unnatural soliloquies or forced flashbacks rattle off their details. Unfortunately, such infodumps, along with sentences lacking much-needed punctuation, detract from a potentially interesting story. Mowery gets the three stories time-coordinated via seemingly unrelated catalyzing events—Liz’s cherished husband, Peter, dies in a plane crash; Beth loses the love of her life, Maxine, to cancer; Eliza murders her philandering ex-husband and his lover (who was also Eliza’s friend), Peg. Eliza congratulates herself not only for failing to digest her daily dose of bipolar-disorder medication—a flub she credits with fueling her murderous act—but also for finding a scapegoat in the form of Peg’s cuckolded husband. She exonerates herself from guilt by promising to do good deeds—a mindset that’s difficult to empathize with. Moving along, Mowery weaves in the equally dramatic (though easier to accept) threads of Liz’s crash course in the secret identities of her deceased husband, as well as Beth’s benevolent intervention on behalf of her niece, a lesbian who recently outed herself. This novel’s intrigue lies in its core scenario: a single individual, traumatized early in life, branches into three women leading parallel lives in overlapping physical space but in distinct dimensions. As they’re meted out, mirrored details and events build suspense that pays off, but not to an impressive degree. In the unpolished narrative style, climactic moments suffer from inconsistent characterization of the Elizabeths and explanations developed in Elizabeth’s unprompted talks to herself. Whittled down to its bare-bones plot, the novel has potential, but for that potential to be realized, expository information needs to be seamlessly incorporated into the narrative, actions and words need to be consistent, and the narrative on the whole needs to be edited for clarity.

An intriguing, multifaceted story that needs polish.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1470077433

Page Count: 180

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Combine Straub's usual warmth and insight with the fun of time travel and you have a winner.

THIS TIME TOMORROW

A woman who's been drifting through life wakes up the morning after her 40th birthday to discover that she's just turned 16 again.

Alice Stern wouldn't say she's unhappy. She lives in a studio apartment in Brooklyn; has a job in the admissions office of the Upper West Side private school she attended as a kid; still hangs out with Sam, her childhood best friend; and has a great relationship with her father, Leonard, the famous author of a time-travel novel, Time Brothers. Alice's mother left her and Leonard when Alice was a kid, and father and daughter formed a tight, loving unit along with their freakishly long-lived cat, Ursula. But now Leonard is in a coma, and as she visits him in the hospital every day, Alice is forced to reckon with her life. After a drunken birthday evening with Sam, Alice returns to her childhood house on Pomander Walk, a one-block-long gated street running between two avenues on the UWS—but when she wakes up the next morning, she hears Leonard in the kitchen and finds herself heading off to SAT tutoring and preparing for her 16th birthday party that night. Straub's novel has echoes of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town: Every prosaic detail of her earlier life is almost unbearably poignant to Alice, and the chance to spend time with her father is priceless. As she moves through her day, she tries to figure out how to get back to her life as a 40-year-old and whether there's anything she can do in the past to improve her future—and save her father's life. As always, Straub creates characters who feel fully alive, exploring the subtleties of their thoughts, feelings, and relationships. It's hard to say more without giving away the delightful surprises of the book's second half, but be assured that Straub's time-travel shenanigans are up there with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and the TV show Russian Doll.

Combine Straub's usual warmth and insight with the fun of time travel and you have a winner.

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-525-53900-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

Did you like this book?

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more