THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF MICHELE BACHMANN (AND OTHER STORIES)

Brosky’s darkly witty stories describe the major and mundane problems facing ordinary Midwesterners.

The young and youngish, mostly male, characters in Brosky’s stories find their personal, self-devised method for dealing with the world challenged by what life throws their way. The protagonist of “Deer Tales” impulsively stakes a major decision—whether to move back to his hometown or stay in the city and pursue a career as an artist—on his success at playing a deer-hunting video game in the lobby bar of a Holiday Inn, only to find that he’s terrible at it. The phone hacker in “The Phreaks” wins a hacking challenge by whistling payphone tones to trick the computer system—“Nines was in his own world, with his eyes closed, running his fingers along every naked space of Ma Bell’s back, treating her the way a really good guy does to a woman he knows he doesn’t deserve”—only to see a lesser hacker make off with the girl he likes due to superior social skills. In the best stories, Brosky exploits this disconnect with a sharp eye for detail and a fine sense of absurdity that’s both darkly funny and subtly tragic, as when one of the Four Horsemen pulls up to a Wisconsin coffee bar for a double shot of espresso in “Apocolypse Wow!” The preconceptions the story’s characters have about the End Times, whether credulous or skeptical, fail to prepare them for the grimly underwhelming, almost bureaucratic nature of the disaster they face. The polite, apologetic Horseman doesn’t have many answers to give the anxious baristas, just weary resignation, a presence that wilts vegetation and a golden scale he has no idea what to do with. Occasionally, Brosky’s satirical style gets the better of his storytelling, leading to flat characters like the cartoonishly oblivious Christian aid worker in Darfur, dropped into the middle of a realistically brutal view of the crisis there in “On the Tenth Day I Kept It Down.” More often, though, he gets the balance right. These stories about often-overlooked characters find sharp observations on the indignities of modern life.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2011

ISBN: 978-1467974370

Page Count: 138

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2012

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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