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NORMAL RULES DON'T APPLY

Atkinson’s fans might want to wait for her next book.

A collection of short fiction in which anything can happen by the celebrated author of the Jackson Brodie novels, among many others.

Atkinson’s last book, Shrines of Gaiety (2022) has a single, charismatic figure at its center, a story that spirals outward to encompass a multifarious cast, and narratives that multiply and intertwine, the whole glorious thing energized by her impeccable ear for the English language, a willingness to experiment, and a sort of gimlet-eyed compassion. That is to say, Shrines of Gaiety reads like an Atkinson novel. This collection feels like an amateurish parody of her signature style, exacerbated by the attempt to tie it all together with recurring characters and repeating motifs. Franklin Fletcher, for example, is the main character of “Dogs in Jeopardy,” “The Indiscreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” “Classic Quest 17—Crime and Punishment” and co-star of the closing story, “What If?” Dame Phoebe Hope-Waters, the Rev. Matthew Dent, and a down-on-her-luck fairytale princess named Aoife pop up in multiple stories. There are talking animals. The end of the world happens. Violets—violet eau de toilette, violet candies, the flowers themselves—dot the text but, after an initial aha, this motif seems no more meaningful than an easter egg in a video game. It all feels like too much and not enough, and “Puppies and Rainbows”—the tale of a feckless, pill-popping American actress who has an affair with the young idiot who is second in line to the British throne—is an embarrassment that not even a cameo appearance by Dame Phoebe Hope-Waters can save. There are a couple of standout characters. Florence, the Rev. Dent’s spiky eldest daughter, is a delight. And then there’s Franklin—handsome, affable, rudderless Franklin. Lacking any will or desire of his own, he is putty in the hands of an author like Atkinson. It’s completely probable that he will—again and again—encounter the improbable, and one wishes that his author had found a complete novel for him. Or even a fully realized novella.

Atkinson’s fans might want to wait for her next book.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9780385549509

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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