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STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY

Rigorously unsentimental yet suffused with emotion: possibly the best work yet from an always stimulating writer.

An architect and his wife grapple with the aftermath of a catastrophic accident in Weber’s sixth novel (True Confections, 2009, etc.).

Duncan is left with a spinal injury after his car is broadsided by an 18-wheeler on the way back from one of the custom homes for wealthy clients that are his firm’s bread and butter. Wheelchair-bound and with the use of only one weak hand, he sinks into a suicidal depression his wife, Laura, hopes will be alleviated by Ottoline, a “monkey helper” trained to perform simple manual tasks he once took for granted. Duncan does develop a bond with Ottoline, and Weber captures in amusing detail her charged interactions with Laura, viewed as a rival for their alpha male. Overall, however, the tone is dark; Duncan broods over Todd, the apprentice architect who died in the crash, and he remains angrily uncooperative with Laura’s attempts to construct a new normal in their changed lives. Weber elucidates both spouses’ struggles in a tough-minded narrative studded with the shrewd, not especially charitable observations that are her trademark. Twenty-five-year-old Todd is nailed with the comment, “As was true of so many of his generation, [he] thought he was entirely original in all of his gentleman hobo hipster choices”; a partner in Duncan’s firm is dismissed as “secretly convinced of his own superiority…he always looked as if he had just returned from a safari or an ice-climbing expedition.” There are also tender moments between Duncan and his "tentative, unambitious" twin, Gordon, and a poignant episode when Laura finds and frames the one truly original design Duncan completed in architecture school before settling for a career doing “highly adequate and entirely unremarkable work.” Missed chances, like the baby the couple failed to conceive, jostle painful acknowledgments of underappreciated pleasures now denied Duncan, like gardening and cooking. His catalog of everything he has lost and his belated acknowledgment of the burden Laura has also borne form the keening climax to this stark and compelling novel.

Rigorously unsentimental yet suffused with emotion: possibly the best work yet from an always stimulating writer.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58988-129-7

Page Count: 287

Publisher: Paul Dry Books

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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