Lean, intriguing, formally innovative prose that will satisfy some readers while leaving others hungry for meatier plots.



National Book Award winner Tuck (The Double Life of Liliane, 2015, etc.) turns her attention to Emily Brontë's gothic, psychologically riveting Wuthering Heights in Heathcliff Redux, the novella at the center of this collection.

It's 1963 in rural Virginia, and the unnamed narrator, who's a mother and the wife of a cattle farmer, is rereading Wuthering Heights when she finds herself inexplicably drawn to a morally compromised man named Cliff. Although warned that Cliff is "too good-looking for his own good," "reckless," and untrustworthy, the narrator falls hard. The story of their affair unfolds as collage: Interspersed with passages from Wuthering Heights, snippets of Brontë's biography, and critical commentary on the novel, the narrator reports in short dispassionate sections on the places she and Cliff make love, on Cliff's lies, and on her husband's affair, among other things. Places or things that arise in scenes from Wuthering Heights or the narrator's own story (Rehoboth Beach, cuckoos, Boeuf Bourguignon) are sometimes glossed on the next page, underscoring the extent to which facts are not necessarily truths. Though the narrator is looking back (much of the secondary material was published 30 years after the affair), hindsight doesn't help her understand why she allowed Cliff to become the force of so much destruction. Instead, the human heart remains a mystery, which seems to be the point. This may disappoint readers who expect fiction to explore the reasons for characters' actions or the novella to shed new light on Brontë's novel (or vice versa). The final four stories are both stranger and more conventional. The characters do things surprising (like carrying a dead swan home) and shocking (murdering a teenage girl), and yet the past always catches up with the present, emphasizing the age-old belief—and plot of much fiction—that you can't escape the consequences of your actions.

Lean, intriguing, formally innovative prose that will satisfy some readers while leaving others hungry for meatier plots.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4759-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.


An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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