Contemplative and complex.

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LIFE EVENTS

A messy meditation on life in the face of death from the author of The Invaders (2015).

Evelyn is waiting for her parents to die—not looking forward to it but preoccupied with this inevitability for which she does not know how to prepare. She’s also waiting for her marriage to die; she’s given up, but she wants her husband, Bobby, to be the one who asks for a divorce. While she waits for both of these endings, she checks out temporarily by taking long drives around Los Angeles, drinking wine, and hitting her weed pen. She’s searching the web for a grief support group when she finds a program that teaches people how to help the terminally ill die. Training for this task compels Evelyn to think deeply about her own life, as does preparing her clients for death. One of the pleasures of this book is that these experiences do not lead to dramatic revelations. The shifts in Evelyn’s thoughts and behavior are subtle and slow. She never makes an explicit connection between her work as a death doula and her decision to finally leave Bobby, but she begins to take practical steps toward that end. Indeed, the process that Evelyn devises to leave her marriage is similar to the process she uses to ease clients toward their final exits. And both processes are morally, ethically, and emotionally fraught. This is not an action-packed novel, and the narrative moves at a meditative pace. What makes it engaging is its narrative voice and its cleareyed assessment of the human condition. Evelyn is self-aware enough to understand her despair and resilient enough to not succumb to it entirely. This does not mean that she has any idea what she should do in order to feel contented and fulfilled—and it’s not that she hasn’t tried. In a passage in which Evelyn is trying to get her doctor to increase her prescription for a sedative, she considers all the therapists she's sought help from. The obstacle between Evelyn and happiness is not a grand tragedy; it is the accumulated weight of the small tragedies we all endure and carry with us.

Contemplative and complex.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-18695-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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