Split between two different narrative modes, Aboulela’s latest is both engaging and perplexing.

BIRD SUMMONS

Three members of a British Muslim women’s group travel north to the Scottish Highlands, where their individual preoccupations turn increasingly surreal, leading them to redefine their attitudes and their futures.

Talking birds, phantom children, and physical metamorphoses are just a few of the surprises in this latest novel from an Egyptian-born writer who has previously used a more realistic style to explore the dilemmas of Muslim women often stranded between cultures. Aboulela (Elsewhere, Home, 2019, etc.) does begin her new work in recognizable territory, depicting a trio of friends who share a religion and immigrant background, but gradually proceedings shift into a more fantastical place. Salma, married to Muslim-convert David and mother to four British children, has enjoyed the most freedom, yet she fantasizes about the life she might have had in Egypt and is enjoying a risky phone dialogue with Amir, the man she didn’t marry. Moni is neglecting and endangering her marriage by devoting herself exclusively to the care of her son, Adam, who has cerebral palsy. Iman, youngest and prettiest of the three, yearns for a child but has just been rejected by her third husband and is now homeless. During a week together in a remote loch-side cottage, the women pursue private paths: Iman wears peculiar costumes and communes with a fable-sprouting Hoopoe, a sacred bird; Moni befriends a silent child who suddenly begins to grow alarmingly, like Alice in Wonderland; and Salma chases Amir through the woods. All three suffer painful physical alterations and journey through testing landscapes, but their friendship, previously fraying, helps sustain them until the Hoopoe leads them back. Aboulela’s exploration of the women’s problems of choice, faith, and commitment are as immersive as ever, but her dreamscapes, while imaginative and disconcerting, seem to sit oddly, at one didactic remove from the story.

Split between two different narrative modes, Aboulela’s latest is both engaging and perplexing.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4915-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

more