An original, if sometimes melodramatic, look at how the past bleeds into the present.

WHEN THE RECKONING COMES

The dark history of a North Carolina tobacco plantation casts a shadow on 21st-century visitors in McQueen's wrenching debut novel.

Mira, a Black high school English teacher in Winston-Salem, hasn't returned to her rural hometown for more than 10 years when she receives a call from her old friend Celine, who's White, saying she's marrying a local dentist who's the heir to a tobacco fortune and asking Mira to come to their wedding. Though Mira is shocked to discover that the wedding is taking place at a restored plantation now functioning as a sort of antebellum theme park, complete with locals playing the roles of slaves, she agrees to attend, partly because she wants to see Jesse, who's Black and was formerly close to both her and Celine. Her friendship with Jesse fell apart when, as kids, they broke into the Woodsman Plantation, the same place the wedding is being held. Mira ran away because she thought she saw ghosts, and, soon after, Jesse was accused of killing a man whose body washed up in the river nearby. Returning to the plantation, Mira again strongly senses the presence of slaves who were killed during an attempted rebellion and feels that they are about to take revenge on the descendants of their former masters—a feeling that is borne out as the wedding goes awry in deadly ways. A subplot involving a romantic attraction between Mira and Jesse seems shoehorned in, and some of the later plot twists are more convenient than convincing. But McQueen carefully walks the line between visions and reality, weaving the voices and stories of the former slaves into the present-day lives and thoughts of her characters as history that has been denied and buried asserts itself.

An original, if sometimes melodramatic, look at how the past bleeds into the present.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-303-504-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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