A strange, highly compelling tale about what happens when American privilege and insulation get turned inside out.

From the undersung Kalfus, another tonally intricate triumph, this one about the bewilderment, alienation, and sheer strangeness of being a refugee.

Ron Patterson is an American who fled his native land as civil war and chaos descended. At the book's beginning he's a 20-something migrant in an unnamed country, eking out a subsistence as a repairman, having overstayed his visa, when he meets Marlise, another refugee. For a brief stretch before the unnamed country's politics turn fractious and they're banished and separated, she becomes a friend, companion, and temporary refuge, and he looks for her—or for her afterimage—everywhere he goes from then on. About 10 years later, having bounced from place to place while his homeland's civil conflict simmers on—and while xenophobic and tribal politics take root across the globe—Ron finds himself in one of the last nations that still welcomes castoffs from the once-great, once-smug power. He lives in a filthy banlieue he calls Little America, again in squalor, again with a steady job as a repairman of security-related electronics. The book is, as it keeps (nimbly) reminding us, a camera obscura: partly because indirect and tricky, bent, not-quite-trustable views are the nature of things; partly because of Ron's marginal and scorned status; partly because he's a loner; and partly due to an affliction that makes him see resemblances between people that may not be real (and on the flip side, differences that may not signify much), Ron can make out reality only indirectly, by way of mirrors and shades, and the image he ends up with is inverted, distorted, deeply mysterious. Then, when America's bitter political split starts to replicate itself even in the ghetto—and when he encounters a strangely familiar female schoolmate and is pressed into service as an informant by a detective—the picture gets murkier, scarier, and more peculiar yet. Kalfus has always worked by ingenious indirection; his A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (2006) is a 9/11 novel as seen through the comic lens of an imploding marriage. Here he does so again, and with similar success, creating a commentary on current American politics that never sets foot in America, takes place in a distant future, and takes pains (as its protagonist does) to avoid the overtly partisan.

A strange, highly compelling tale about what happens when American privilege and insulation get turned inside out.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-57131-144-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022



A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986



Roberts revisits a favorite theme: The power of community can defeat a great evil.

After escaping from a serial killer, a woman tries to reclaim her life.

After a childhood as an Army brat, Morgan Albright is determined to put down roots. She bought a small house in the perfect neighborhood outside of Baltimore, living with a friend and working two jobs to make ends meet. Morgan’s life is happy and fulfilling, and she is making progress on her financial and career goals. Her perfect world is shattered when someone breaks into her home and murders her roommate. At first, the police assume it was a random act of violence, but after discovering the killer stole Morgan’s identity and her entire savings, they realize the crime fits the profile of a serial killer named Gavin Rozwell. The police inform Morgan that her roommate was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time; she was the real intended target. Morgan’s grief, coupled with the financial devastation from the identity theft, leaves her no choice but to return home to Vermont to live with her mother and grandmother. Morgan reconnects with her family and rebuilds her life, including landing the perfect job and falling in love. The police and FBI pursue Gavin, who continues to stalk and kill women, each time leaving a reminder at the crime scene that shows he’s fixated on Morgan as the one who got away. Roberts shows Gavin’s slow descent into obsession and madness as the inverse of Morgan’s healing journey back to herself and her community. The novel highlights Morgan’s preparations for the inevitable final countdown with Gavin, but the lack of immediacy and urgency of the threat makes for a subdued, restrained thriller.

Roberts revisits a favorite theme: The power of community can defeat a great evil.

Pub Date: May 23, 2023

ISBN: 9781250284112

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023