Stories, on balance, that appear above all to love the sound of their own voices.

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NOT THE END OF THE WORLD

Twelve debut stories from Whitbread winner Atkinson (Behind the Scenes at the Museum, 1996) are unparalleled in deftness but in their depth less compelling.

Characters from one tale are sometimes referred to in another—as with Meredith Zane, whose aunt Nanci Zane married a Briton (in the 1970s) and then died during dentistry (“The Bodies Vest”), causing her own dentist father, back in California, to shoot himself. Earlier in the volume but later in time, Meredith (“Transparent Fiction”) is 25 and living with a wannabe scriptwriter in London. When Meredith twitches the cape from the shoulders of a famous producer’s wife, the aging lady turns to dust. Ovid-like metamorphoses appeal to Atkinson, who prefaces the stories with Latin passages, even Greek, allusions that tend to make the stories seem the more minor. A prolixity of cuteness and verve can give energy but can also cloy (“Meredith, Baxter, and Wilson—which sounded like a firm of lawyers—were all girls, as were the endlessly confusing Taylor, Tyler, Skyler, and Sky”). The pieces are nothing, though, if not capable in their details, as in “Tunnel of Fish,” about a young deaf boy’s fantasies, or “Unseen Translation,” about a likably strident nanny who seeks to rescue her charges from the “ordinary.” More familiar still is “Temporal Anomaly,” about an Edinburgh woman who hovers, watching her family’s reactions after she “dies” in a car wreck. In “Wedding Favors,” a divorced mother is alone after her last child leaves for college, while in “The Cat Lover,” a woman’s pet grows huge and she gets pregnant by him. Opening and closing the volume are twin stories, the first about futuristic threats to the world (“Charlene and Trudi Go Shopping”), the other (“Pleasureland”) about its end. In both, the characters rattle off lists of things to do, eat, and buy in another Ovid-like device that, here, just seems minimizing and affected.

Stories, on balance, that appear above all to love the sound of their own voices.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2003

ISBN: 0-316-61430-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003

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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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