An endearingly flawed actor’s thoughts come to life thanks to swift and clever prose.



A young man in a theater troupe struggles to get his life together in the wake of graduate school and a failed marriage.

By the first few pages of McKeon’s debut novel, protagonist and narrator Bob is convinced that it’s “all over, college, grad school, the seventies and the marriage.” The actor is on a “sweat-soaked” Naugahyde bus seat with his friend Ripley. It’s 1980, and the two 25-year-olds have accepted paid summer residencies at the PCPA theater, a well-known company in the central California tourist town of Santa Maria, in order to actively run from the realities of having just finished MFAs. What the PCPA fails to offer them in terms of speaking roles, money, and a glamorous locale it more than makes up for with its host of fascinating fellow actors. The members of the company start to couple and uncouple in between wild, hazy parties and rehearsals for everything from Henry V to Death of a Salesman. But, being theatrical and eccentric, these are not your average quirky 20-somethings; there’s a fugitive from the FBI, a man who refuses to be separated from his dog, and Bob’s sublimely blunt roommate, Angie—who, like the protagonist, might have gotten married much too young. Each encounter forces Bob to come to terms with his insecurities, his unsuccessful marriage, and what his craft still has to teach him about life. A final twist on the very last page is one of the few moments that land with a disappointing thud—but only because Bob’s subsequent reaction is missing. Intriguing as they are, the other characters are mere stage directions for the real star: Bob’s wry inner monologue. His thoughts jump from the self-aggrandizing fervor of an improvised audition to the somber rerun of his wife’s departure before ending with a perfectly timed, caustic joke (“Ripley was raised Catholic. He knew all about” self-loathing, Bob says at one point, casually reducing his only real friend in the world). McKeon times these beats impeccably; he writes with a kinetic energy that propels Bob’s darkest and funniest moments at the same pace, making for both a fully realized narrator and a compulsive read.

An endearingly flawed actor’s thoughts come to life thanks to swift and clever prose.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-90971-3

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Strutting & Fretting

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

Did you like this book?