THE SILVER SPOON

In this domestic drama, a young woman fights for the well-being of her family and learns a thing or two about trust, community and forgiveness along the way.

Twenty-five-year-old Lizzy Wallace is being forced to grow up fast: Her mother is dying of cancer, her grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and Lizzy must take care of them both. Her only other blood relative, her aunt Tanya, is interested not in the health of her family, but in the material possessions that might be left to her in the wake of their deaths—specifically, a set of silver cutlery. As Lizzy’s mother takes her last breaths, Tanya begins a series of deplorable attempts to gain what she believes is hers—no matter the cost. Enlisting the help of an adoring small-town Alabama community, Lizzy is forced to fight for her family, even as their darker secrets are revealed. It’s a distraught and frustrating saga, one that pits Lizzy’s determination and love for her family against the maddening will of an embittered woman—readers  with a particularly vicious relative will probably relate. But where many family dramas can be intricate and complex, this one unfortunately falls flat. Other than the drawn-out tug  of war between two quarreling women—along with every mundane detail that occurs in between a funeral, multiple court dates, and moving in and out of various homes—not much happens in this book. It’s well-written, fast-paced and heartbreaking, but it leaves the reader wanting much more. What’s missing is character depth: Other than vague references to her job, and even though we’re told her every thought, we still somehow know virtually nothing about Lizzy; Aunt Tanya is entirely one-dimensional, an unbelievable caricature of evil; and a host of other characters—Lizzy’s best friend, two concerned caretakers, a kindhearted but ailing grandmother and an estranged father—scratch only the surface. Instead of developing these people and their stories, and truly excavating emotional turmoil, the book instead relies on exposition and sentimentality, making it difficult to find much substance. An emotional family melodrama whose characters, conflicts and resolutions often seem as trivial—and tarnished—as the silverware.

 

Pub Date: June 10, 2010

ISBN: 978-1450232036

Page Count: 260

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2012

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Slow moving and richly layered.

THE SEARCHER

A retired cop takes one last case in this stand-alone novel from the creator of the Dublin Murder Squad.

Originally from North Carolina, Cal Hooper has spent the last 30 years in Chicago. “A small place. A small town in a small country”: That’s what he’s searching for when he moves to the West of Ireland. His daughter is grown, his wife has left him, so Cal is on his own—until a kid named Trey starts hanging around. Trey’s brother is missing. Everyone believes that Brendan has run off just like his father did, but Trey thinks there’s more to the story than just another young man leaving his family behind in search of money and excitement in the city. Trey wants the police detective who just emigrated from America to find out what’s really happened to Brendan. French is deploying a well-worn trope here—in fact, she’s deploying a few. Cal is a new arrival to an insular community, and he’s about to discover that he didn’t leave crime and violence behind when he left the big city. Cal is a complex enough character, though, and it turns out that the mystery he’s trying to solve is less shocking than what he ultimately discovers. French's latest is neither fast-paced nor action-packed, and it has as much to do with Cal’s inner life as it does with finding Brendan. Much of what mystery readers are looking for in terms of action is squeezed into the last third of the novel, and the morally ambiguous ending may be unsatisfying for some. But French’s fans have surely come to expect imperfect allegiance to genre conventions, and the author does, ultimately, deliver plenty of twists, shocking revelations, and truly chilling moments.

Slow moving and richly layered.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-73-522465-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.

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LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND

An interrupted family vacation, unexpected visitors, a mysterious blackout—something is happening, and the world may never be the same.

On a reassuringly sunny summer day, Amanda, an account director in advertising; Clay, a college professor; and their children, Archie, 15, and Rose, 13, make their way from Brooklyn to a luxury home (swimming pool! hot tub! marble countertops!) in a remote area of Long Island they’ve rented for a family vacation. Shortly after they arrive, however, the family’s holiday is interrupted by a knock on the door: The house’s owners, a prosperous older Black couple—George Washington and his wife, Ruth—have shown up unannounced because New York City has been plunged into a blackout and their Park Avenue high-rise apartment didn’t feel safe. Soon it becomes clear that the blackout is a symptom (or is it a cause?) of something larger—and nothing is safe. Has there been a nuclear or climate disaster, a war, a terrorist act, a bomb? Alam’s story unfolds like a dystopian fever dream cloaked in the trappings of a dream vacation: Why do hundreds of deer show up in the house’s well-maintained backyard or a flock of bright-pink flamingos frolic in the family pool and then fly away? What is the noise, loud enough to crack glass, that comes, without warning, once and then, later, repeatedly? Is it safer to go back to the city, to civilization, or to remain away, in a world apart? As they search for answers and adjust to what increasingly appears to be a confusing new normal, the two families—one Black, one White; one older, one younger; one rich, one middle-class—are compelled to find community amid calamity, to come together to support each other and survive. As he did in his previous novels, Rich and Pretty (2016) and That Kind of Mother (2018), Alam shows an impressive facility for getting into his characters’ heads and an enviable empathy for their moral shortcomings, emotional limitations, and failures of imagination. The result is a riveting novel that thrums with suspense yet ultimately offers no easy answers—disappointing those who crave them even as it fittingly reflects our time.

Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-266763-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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