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

STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY

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 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

PRETTY THINGS

The daughter of a grifter plans to fund her mother’s cancer treatment with a revenge con.

Rich people suck, don’t they? Nina Ross found this out in her adolescence, when her romance with Benny Liebling was broken up by his status-obsessed, old-money father, who found them screwing in the guest cottage of the family’s Lake Tahoe estate. Back then, Nina had a future—but she’s since followed her con-artist mother into the family business with the help of a handsome blue-eyed Irish confederate named Lachlan. “Here’s my rule,” Nina tells him. “Only people who have too much, and only people who deserve it.” Of course, he agrees. “We take only what we need.” With her art history background, Nina is usually able to target a few expensive antiques they can lift without the rich dopes even noticing they’re gone. But now that Nina's mother is hovering at death’s door without health insurance, she’s going after the $1 million in cash Benny mentioned was in his father’s safe all those years ago. So back to Lake Tahoe it is. The older Lieblings are dead, and Benny’s in the bin, so it’s his sister Vanessa Liebling who is the target of the complicated caper. Vanessa is a terribly annoying character—“I couldn’t tell you how I went from a few dozen Instagram followers to a half-million. One day, you’re uploading photos of your dog wearing sunglasses; and the next you’re begin flown to Coachella on a private jet with four other social media It Girls…”—but, in fact, you’ll hate everyone in this book. That is surely Brown’s (Watch Me Disappear, 2017, etc.) intention as she’s the one making them natter on this way. She also makes them vomit much more than is normal, whether it’s because they’re poisoning each other or because they’re just so horrified by each other’s behavior. Definitely stay to see how it all turns out.

Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-47912-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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