A enjoyable read with little substance.

JOODY

Intertwining stories chronicle the life and misspent times of a negligent mother.

Joody—she changed the spelling in school so she’d come before girls with the name’s conventional rendering—is a careless narcissist who leaves a path of emotional destruction behind her. Besides ex-boyfriends and her sister, victims include three living children and one dead baby whom she delivers at home, wraps in a blanket and stuffs in a cupboard, heading off to work after placing the placenta in the trash. “What about the baby?” her straight-arrow sister, Janet, asks. “It just kind of slipped out,” Joody replies. This tale of a dysfunctional American family comes into focus through the eyes of four narrators, including Joody herself; her sister; Joody’s confused, angry son, Bryce; and his concerned but alienated probable-father, Brent. Through each lens, readers view a slightly different aspect of this troubling but seemingly untroubled woman—a “floozy,” in her sister’s words, since “slut and whore are too harsh.” Although the technique of telling a tale from different points of view has worked for masters like Faulkner and Bierce, here it falls short. For one thing, the voices all sound the same, with comma splices being just one mannerism each narrator shares. Nevertheless, the book draws poignant if sketchy pictures of a strained relationship between the night-and-day sisters and a son and father trying to act their roles. Joody’s character is believable: Like many crazies, she has a sure instinct for self-preservation, often independent of survival for those around her. “No matter the verb, she was the object,” her sister observes. Yet for a potentially heavy subject, the book has a peculiar lightness, and Joody’s own take on the situation can be downright funny. Her sister and nerdy boyfriend, for instance, are “dweebs in heat.” Despite some entertaining lines, the book never really wades beyond the emotional shallows. To its credit, though, it doesn’t moralize about Joody’s condition. To its detriment, it doesn’t fully explore or explain it.

A enjoyable read with little substance.

Pub Date: April 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-1456336554

Page Count: 118

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2013

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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