A talent undoubtedly headed toward higher achievements.

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THE RED PASSPORT

Shonk, whose work has been included in Best American Short Stories, makes her solo debut with tales culled from time spent in Russia as the nation struggled toward post-communist solvency.

The theme of freedom as a mixed blessing is elaborated rather repetitively, but it’s crystal-clear each time. “The Death of Olga Vasilievna” shows a young couple getting their first taste of liberty, both figurative and literal, when Sveta’s mother finally dies, but the cat they immediately adopt comes to stand for the complications of a country rocketing toward capitalism. When an American scientist comes snooping with a Geiger counter around a woman’s abnormally large vegetables in “My Mother’s Garden,” how will her daughter convince her that the abundance is really a bad omen? “The Conversion” follows an American returning to Russia, the site of the best years of his life as well as his cuckolding, only to find friends repeating his own mistakes and a past that proves impossible to bury. A young Russian girl who grew up in San Francisco, daughter of a mail-order bride, returns to the white nights in “The Wooden Village of Kizhi,” and she may finally be too old to believe the fairy tale that her real father drowned in a vat at an ice-cream factory. Shonk’s style is matter-of-fact, and these stories never lose their foreignness even when related by natives, but the emotions are real. The best piece, “The Young People of Moscow,” hauntingly portrays an aging couple—a retired poet reduced to selling books in the bowels of Moscow while his wife rails against Americans who refuse disabled Russian babies—as they struggle for life in an accelerated world where “young Muscovites in business suits, their eyes shielded by sunglasses, brush by Nina and Vassily as if the two of them are statues.”

A talent undoubtedly headed toward higher achievements.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-24847-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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