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GHOST TOWN

Chen’s exploration of generational trauma is both too much and not enough.

A haunted family saga from a winner of the Taiwan Literature Award for Books.

“It’s Ghost Festival today, the Day of Deliverance. The ghosts are coming. I’ve come back, too.” This is what Keith Chen says to his lover as Keith stands in front of the house where he grew up. Or, rather, this is what Keith would say if his lover were by his side—if his lover was still alive. Keith is returning to his backward, backwater hometown after spending time in a German prison for killing that lover. He’s seeking memories, but not all of the memories he encounters are welcome ones, and he and his family are surrounded by unquiet spirits—and, although still living, are unquiet spirits themselves, haunting their own lives. Running beneath the whole narrative is the secret story of the death of Keith’s lover. The ideas that Chen (the author, not the character) is playing with are familiar to anyone who has read Gothic literature—from Wuthering Heights to Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017). And there are moments when Chen creates a truly eerie atmosphere. One of the many characters who narrates this novel—himself a ghost—describes all of Yongjing awakening as his wife and the other women of the town chant during an impromptu morning ritual: “The ghosts in the public cemetery all woke up, too, as did the weeds, the tree snags, and the fallowed fields, along with the molds, the rice stalks, and the wildflowers. All the living, the dead, and the living who wished they were dead in that small town were woken rudely up.” But, despite the diversity of narrators, there isn’t much diversity of voice—a lack of interiority makes it difficult to distinguish one character from another—and most of this story is told in a flat, expository style that is, ultimately, wearying. There is something initially powerful in the way that Chen presents cruelty as commonplace, but this stylistic choice quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns. It seems likely that most readers will either become anesthetized to the brutality or simply quit reading.

Chen’s exploration of generational trauma is both too much and not enough.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-60945-798-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2022

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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