THE STUDY OF ANIMAL LANGUAGES

Stern’s brittle comedy of highfalutin intellectual theories evolves into a feeling portrait of a gifted man coming face to...

Passion (or the lack of) among the academic elite is the subject of Stern’s first novel, narrated by a philosophy professor who studies the nature of knowledge while clueless about how to lead his life.

Love and academic politics at an unnamed Rhode Island college make for an uneasy marriage between recently tenured Ivan and his younger wife, Prue. Ivan, a self-proclaimed “fusty scholar” with no apparent friends and little sense of adventure or humor (except with Prue’s 7-year-old niece, May, toward whom he is lovingly protective) adores Prue, an intellectual live wire popular with peers and students. He wonders, as will readers, what about him other than sex attracts Prue—probably not his binge-eating. Ivan’s scholarship, which circles around the nature of belief and knowledge, has always been eclipsed by biolinguist Prue’s scientific research into the nature of language. She has published 20 articles to his four and has received funding to start a center for ornithology at the college. Ivan has already sensed a tension growing between them before she announces that she has not yet decided whether to accept or reject an exciting six-month research offer from the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Worse, she doesn’t tell him this while they’re alone but rather in front of her encouraging friends. Ivan seems like a stick in the mud when he complains that her absence might have a negative effect on her upcoming tenure review. Then she gives a controversial lecture questioning the ethics of her own study of animal language. Horrified by the possible damage she’s done to her career, Ivan is again unsupportive. In contrast, Prue’s visiting father, Frank, leaps to her defense in disastrous fashion. Bipolar Frank’s mental health is spiraling down because Ivan has not made Frank take his meds as Prue requested. Meanwhile, just as genuine professional success appears within reach, Ivan’s misreading of the world around him causes him to mislead Prue in increasingly foolish and serious ways.

Stern’s brittle comedy of highfalutin intellectual theories evolves into a feeling portrait of a gifted man coming face to face with his limitations.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55743-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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THE GREAT ALONE

A tour de force.

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In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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