"From a wound, beauty rises” in this modern-day Winesburg, Ohio.

WHAT LUCK, THIS LIFE

A small town’s residents cope with their lives and an American tragedy.

A scream comes across the sky, and there’s nothing to compare to it in Schwille’s quietly contemplative and affecting first novel. On Feb. 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded while re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, and debris fell into the water. Schwille imagines that debris fell onto Kiser, a “dinky, third-fiddle” east Texas town near Louisiana. She introduces us to a wide array of locals and their simple lives, now interrupted by search and rescue operations. Schwille’s narrative is told from widely different points of view and employs subtle time shifts going back and forth across years. “Time,” to quote from her Italo Calvino epigraph, “is a catastrophe, perpetual and irreversible.” Kiser suffers from drought, unemployment, multiple divorces, damaged soldiers returning from war, meth labs, anti-gay sentiments, domestic violence, and racism. Wes MacFarland tells us Kiser “wasn’t one of those storybook places.” He’s a struggling, tormented, gay tree-service foreman married to a woman named Holly. Their young, troubled son, Frankie, “heard the shuttle come apart” and came across an “orange space suit wedged in the crook of a tall tree...an astronaut’s torso inside it.” Wes will abandon Kiser, moving to Houston to be with his partner, Ben. Holly will divorce him and marry Pastor Will Simpson, who felt she “had brushed against the devil’s ways.” “Diabetic, Gandhi-thin” Plato Winchester, a “modern-day Davy Crockett,” found “bits of metal, pieces of foam, something he said looked like glass.” A “shoe-less foot, missing one big toe” is found beside Junior Pierce’s mailbox. Gabe Dixon, a poor African-American man, finds a female hand with a ring on it. “The people of Kiser had spread their arms around [this] disaster and accepted the great burden of its grief.”

"From a wound, beauty rises” in this modern-day Winesburg, Ohio.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-938235-42-9

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Hub City Press

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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