Zeidner (Layover, 1999, etc.) is writing about love gone wrong, not terrorism, but conflating the two is tricky business,...


Given the country’s recent spate of shootings and hostage takings, readers may feel a tad squeamish while chuckling at this comedy about a wedding party taken hostage by a masked and heavily armed gunwoman.

The Nathanson-Billips nuptials are about to begin in the Haddonfield, N.J., home of bride Tess’ mother. A psychotherapist divorced from Tess’ psychiatrist father, Helen is already anxious about the wedding—rain has forced the garden party inside her cramped house and there are a number of guests who might not want to rub shoulders too closely, including ex-wives and jilted lovers. Then, a woman in a wedding dress and a gas mask arrives with a sawed-off shotgun, lots of ammo and a bomb. At first, the caterers and 55 guests assume she is part of the entertainment since Tess and groom Gabe, a biracial performance artist, like to be unconventional. But soon, the masked intruder has barricaded everyone together into one room, and she makes it obvious that her bullets are real. Still, the tone remains light, a comedy of manners about the unlikely mix locked in together: the five Jewish psychiatrists (including not only Tess’ father, but also Gabe’s Jewish maternal grandfather), Gabe’s macho/military African-American paternal grandfather, Tess’ two stepmothers and their problematic children, the African friends Tess and Gabriel made while working for Doctors Without Borders, Gabe’s actress sister and her more-famous-actor date, a catering assistant with a stalker. The novel’s strongest element is the individual hostages’ stories about failed love that emerge, both entertaining and sad. But actually, the hostage taking does not concern anyone in the wedding. In fact, the gunwoman, Crystal, has staged the event to get the attention of her former lover, Van, a member of the police SWAT team, whom she has been stalking since he unceremoniously dumped her. Unfortunately, her story is more cartoonish than satirical.

Zeidner (Layover, 1999, etc.) is writing about love gone wrong, not terrorism, but conflating the two is tricky business, sometimes affecting and comically disturbing, sometimes just a little creepy.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-3741-9271-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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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. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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