Shimotakahara displays virtuosity in this subtle deconstruction of one family’s tainted origins.

RED OBLIVION

An architect returns home during a family crisis and uncovers devastating secrets about the father she thought she knew.

Novelist Shimotakahara (After the Bloom, 2017, etc.) tells a heartbreaking story in which the past haunts the present and bleeds into the future. Jill Lau, an architect living in Toronto, returns to Hong Kong with her sister, Celeste, to hold vigil at the bedside of their dying father. Ba, an iron-willed but distant patriarch, is a wealthy man with impoverished beginnings in Guangzhou, China. He never revealed how he found his way to Hong Kong after the Cultural Revolution or what he had to do to climb out of poverty. His hidden past invades his hospital room just when he is becoming too weak to fight the old battles. "The past, or his memory of the past, is largely absent, drained of emotion. All that remains are a few cold images. Where one expects to find yearning, one confronts instead a desire not to look at anything too closely.” Celeste returns to Canada, but Jill stays on in the family apartment. She becomes curious about her father’s background when a mysterious package arrives. Jill eventually returns to the distant village where everything changed when her father made desperate choices and settled long-simmering grudges. Shimotakahara is adept at portraying the otherness of living in two worlds while belonging to neither. She deftly articulates the many ways human beings can justify wrongdoing if it leads to a good outcome, describing the inconceivable with nuance while conveying both shock and banality.

Shimotakahara displays virtuosity in this subtle deconstruction of one family’s tainted origins.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4597-4521-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dundurn

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Read this for insights about writing, about losing one’s mother, about dealing with a cranky sous-chef and a difficult...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

WRITERS & LOVERS

A Boston-area waitress manages debt, grief, medical troubles, and romantic complications as she finishes her novel.

“There are so many things I can’t think about in order to write in the morning,” Casey explains at the opening of King’s (Euphoria, 2014, etc.) latest. The top three are her mother’s recent death, her crushing student loans, and the married poet she recently had a steaming-hot affair with at a writer’s colony. But having seen all but one of her writer friends give up on the dream, 31-year-old Casey is determined to stick it out. After those morning hours at her desk in her teensy garage apartment, she rides her banana bike to work at a restaurant in Harvard Square—a setting the author evokes in delicious detail, recalling Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, though with a lighter touch. Casey has no sooner resolved to forget the infidel poet than a few more writers show up on her romantic radar. She rejects a guy at a party who reveals he’s only written 11 1/2 pages in three years—“That kind of thing is contagious”—to find herself torn between a widowed novelist with two young sons and a guy with an irresistible broken tooth from the novelist's workshop. Casey was one of the top two golfers in the country when she was 14, and the mystery of why she gave up the sport altogether is entangled with the mystery of her estrangement from her father, the latter theme familiar from King’s earlier work. In fact, with its young protagonist, its love triangle, and its focus on literary ambition, this charmingly written coming-of-age story would be an impressive debut novel. But after the originality and impact of Euphoria, it might feel a bit slight.

Read this for insights about writing, about losing one’s mother, about dealing with a cranky sous-chef and a difficult four-top.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4853-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

CODE NAME HÉLÈNE

A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more