Greenfeld has a tendency to lean toward parody in his satiric style, but here he employs enough authenticity to terrify,...

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THE SUBPRIMES

In a near future where the poor have been utterly undermined by the rich, a renegade emerges to champion the inherent good in people.

After mocking urban gentrification in his debut novel (Triburbia, 2012), here Greenfeld employs the ethos of the Occupy movement in imagining how the worst tendencies of conservative power and economic greed might wreak havoc on a nation. The novel opens on a squatter’s camp in California, where “Subprimes” with ruined credit ratings wander fruitlessly looking for food and shelter. We meet Sargam, a motorcycle-riding orphan whose kindness is blinding. Blessed by one young family for giving them a little money, she says, “Not God. It’s just people. People helping people. That’s all we got.” Greenfeld pulls back the curtain on his slow apocalypse to reveal an America where roads, education, and the justice system have been privatized, with public services and schools left to crumble. In an eerie sidebar, the poisoned environment is driving whales to beach themselves in mass numbers. Greenfeld alternates his third-person narrative with a first-person perspective on current events from Richie Schwab, one of LA’s last journalists, who copes by smoking potent weed and working his beat. Schwab falls in with Gemma Mack, the beleaguered wife of Arthur Mack, a hedge fund manager who famously swindled billions from his clients. Arthur is now in cahoots with “Pastor Roger,” the leader of a megachurch who empowers industrialists and oil barons in the name of God—seriously, the villains here make the most single-minded Objectivists look like saints by comparison. Sargam and her tribe make their way to rural Nevada, where the Subprimes occupy a housing development and begin building a fair, equitable, and sustainable community dubbed Valence. Naturally, the bad guys learn there’s fracking energy to be had beneath Valence, and the fight is on. Ain’t no justice, just us.

Greenfeld has a tendency to lean toward parody in his satiric style, but here he employs enough authenticity to terrify, enough black humor to disarm the story's inherent pessimism, and a surprising admiration for faith in its myriad forms.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-213242-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

THE FIFTH SEASON

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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