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VIOLETS

Overly reliant on sentimentality and shock.

The English translation of an early work by the author of The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness (2015) and Please Look After Mom (2011).

One of South Korea’s most celebrated writers, Shin captured the attention of Anglophone readers when she won the Man Asian Literary Prize. This slender novel begins in the early 1970s with the birth of a baby girl—unwanted because of her sex—in a small village. Oh San’s family has little social status, and she and her mother move deeper into the margins after San’s father disappears. As a young woman, San moves to Seoul. Her real dream is to become a writer or just work at a publishing house, but she is willing to settle for work as a word processor operator. When even this modest goal proves unattainable, San starts working in a flower shop. She meets a woman named Su-ae—who is as bold and impetuous as San is cautious and reserved—and falls for an unnamed photographer. Shin is known for revealing the ways in which her culture oppresses and isolates people—especially women. With San, she has created a protagonist who is professionally thwarted and incapable of forming attachments. San accepts Su-ae’s friendship, but she also pushes the other woman away. San becomes obsessed with a man she barely knows because he offers her a couple of compliments. At the same time, her desire for him is tangled up with the still-raw feelings she has from being rejected by her only childhood friend after a brief intimate moment. Throughout these travails, though, San remains something of a cypher—inaccessible not just to the people around her, but also to the reader. The violent phantasmagoria of the story’s climax reinforces the sense that San is more a symbol of modern alienation than a fully developed character.

Overly reliant on sentimentality and shock.

Pub Date: April 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-558612-90-7

Page Count: 218

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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ALL FOURS

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

A woman set to embark on a cross-country road trip instead drives to a nearby motel and becomes obsessed with a local man.

According to Harris, the husband of the narrator of July’s novel, everyone in life is either a Parker or a Driver. “Drivers,” Harris says, “are able to maintain awareness and engagement even when life is boring.” The narrator knows she’s a Parker, someone who needs “a discrete task that seems impossible, something…for which they might receive applause.” For the narrator, a “semi-famous” bisexual woman in her mid-40s living in Los Angeles, this task is her art; it’s only by haphazard chance that she’s fallen into a traditional straight marriage and motherhood. When the narrator needs to be in New York for work, she decides on a solo road trip as a way of forcing herself to be more of a metaphorical Driver. She makes it all of 30 minutes when, for reasons she doesn’t quite understand, she pulls over in Monrovia. After encountering a man who wipes her windows at a gas station and then chats with her at the local diner, she checks in to a motel, where she begins an all-consuming intimacy with him. For the first time in her life, she feels truly present. But she can only pretend to travel so long before she must go home and figure out how to live the rest of a life that she—that any woman in midlife—has no map for. July’s novel is a characteristically witty, startlingly intimate take on Dante’s “In the middle of life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood”—if the dark wood were the WebMD site for menopause and a cheap room at the Excelsior Motel.

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

Pub Date: May 14, 2024

ISBN: 9780593190265

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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