A very strange tale that could have been unbearably pretentious—but it’s deft and light enough to work, creating just the...

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STELLA DESCENDING

A haunting, elegiac account of a woman’s mysterious death, told by this Norwegian second-novelist (Before You Sleep, 1999) through the voices of the detective and survivors trying to make sense of the case.

There is Twin Peaks–like weirdness to this story, which is much too elliptical to qualify as a typical whodunit. We begin with the death of Stella, an Oslo nurse who falls from the roof of her seven-storey apartment building. Her husband Martin was not only on the roof, too, but seen holding onto her just before she fell—or was he pushing her? The witnesses can’t quite make up their minds. Corinne, the detective investigating the case, is a former ventriloquist whose stomach turns (literally) whenever she is in the presence of a killer. She has a bad feeling about Martin, but there’s not enough evidence to charge him with anything. Corinne also happens to know that in 1934 a lovelorn actor killed himself by jumping off the very same roof. Axel, an old man whom Stella had nursed in the hospital and who subsequently became her friend, had a bad feeling about Martin, too. Martin is a furniture salesman who sold Stella a green sofa and refused to leave after he delivered it—he and Stella had been married for ten years when she died. It seems that Martin had a kind of private game in which he took it upon himself to sleep with every woman who ever bought a green sofa from him. Stella had some quirks, too: She let a plumber move in with her when she couldn’t afford to pay him (he even stayed after she and Martin were married). So, were she and Martin up to something weird on the roof, or was the death just an accident? Or a murder? Suicide?

A very strange tale that could have been unbearably pretentious—but it’s deft and light enough to work, creating just the right atmosphere of foreboding and regret.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-41499-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2003

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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