Like many “literary” authors before her, Shigekuni borrows genre-fiction tropes without knowing how to make them work.

IN PLAIN VIEW

A thriller that takes the reader from academia in Los Angeles to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

Daidai is taking a leave of absence as a museum curator while she’s trying to conceive. Her husband, Hiroshi, continues to work as a professor. At a party for graduate students, Daidai meets Satsuki, who has just arrived in Los Angeles. Even though she’s convinced that Satsuki is interested in her husband, Daidai is, herself, seduced by this beguiling woman. Satsuki is both a fascinating distraction and a chance to connect with Japanese culture—which is something Daidai, a Japanese-American woman raised in the United States, craves. But a death at a local Catholic monastery makes her wonder what she really knows about her new friend. Psychological thrillers often rely on a disconnect between a protagonist’s ordinary life and the extraordinary circumstances in which she finds herself. Bored and frustrated, Daidai is perfectly situated both to fall for a charismatic stranger and to become obsessed with her secrets. But Shigekuni’s (Unending Nora, 2008, etc.) writing flattens the contrast between Daidai’s reality before and after Satsuki. Descriptions of setting and action tend to be vague to the point of opacity. For example, very early in the novel, Daidai has an encounter with a strange man while shopping for groceries in Little Tokyo. She's so startled when he speaks to her that she makes him stumble, and their interaction, apparently, causes a tear in the heavy bag of rice she’s carrying. But there’s no obvious moment of impact; physical contact is mostly implied. It’s difficult to visualize what actually happens during this encounter. Emotional states and relationships are equally hard to divine. The stranger she meets in Little Tokyo is still carrying the torn bag of rice when Daidai runs into the little brother of the friend she’s planning to meet for lunch. There are suggestions that she finds him attractive, but there’s no way to understand how important this information is. These are not isolated incidents but, rather, indicative of the novel’s style throughout. This leaves the reader feeling off-kilter from the start, which diminishes the impact of real mystery entering Daidai’s life. Satsuki would be more compellingly enigmatic if there weren’t so many gaps and elisions in Shigekuni’s worldbuilding and character development.

Like many “literary” authors before her, Shigekuni borrows genre-fiction tropes without knowing how to make them work.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-939419-98-9

Page Count: 286

Publisher: Unnamed Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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