A strongly written tale about resurrecting a marriage under the most unusual and mysterious of circumstances.

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RETROGRADE

A woman suffering from amnesia doesn’t realize she’s been separated for years from the husband who cares for her in this debut novel.

Helena Bachlein works in advertising in Berlin. Separated from her husband, Joachim, for almost three years, she begins to date again. But after a meeting at a local cafe, she is hit by a truck and lands in the hospital with broken ribs, a broken arm, a broken ankle, and amnesia. Joachim is called to the hospital, and since Helena can’t remember the accident or the past three years, she thinks that they are still together. He doesn’t tell her they are separated and is conflicted about when to break the news. He also neglects to inform her that she has her own apartment and brings her back to his place, explaining that most of her things were put in the basement after a water leak. The internet isn’t working; she doesn’t have a cellphone; and the apartment is on the fourth floor. He contacts Helena’s employer and arranges for her to telecommute, with Joachim returning work to the office via flash drive. A jarring visit from a co-worker named Doro changes everything since she hasn’t heard of Joachim. Helena discovers that she has her own apartment. While Joachim struggles to decide if his attempt at saving the marriage has backfired, the tension intensifies as Helena concludes that she must decide whether she should stay in a relationship that she left behind long ago. Hausler’s novel gives equal time to both Helena’s and Joachim’s thoughts, which is crucial in the sort of psychological drama she has crafted. Careful attention is paid to details that may jog Helena’s memory, including people and places, but also German language conventions. As the story dives deeper into the layers of memory, each word that is spoken or left unsaid becomes important in a cat-and-mouse mind game that gives this pensive story some elements of a thriller. The love that’s described is always on thin ice (“But the moment he touches her, the spell will break, and they’ll just be two people in bed together, without any enchantments”). Hausler’s ability to describe the precarious state of the emotions involved is consistently convincing.

A strongly written tale about resurrecting a marriage under the most unusual and mysterious of circumstances.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-946154-02-6

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Meerkat Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged White mom and her Black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a Black boy hoping to go with a White girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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