A sassy circumnavigation of hospital culture and mortality.

HALF THE KINGDOM

Is dementia catching? The possibility sends one emergency room into a tizzy in Segal’s latest, a surreal black comedy.

It’s Miriam Haddad, an ER doctor, who lets the cat out of the bag. She confides to Joe Bernstine, a regular patient, that they’re tracking “all the sixty-two-pluses who go around the bend.” Smiling Joe is unfazed. Nothing fazes Joe, not even the fact that he’s terminal. He’s the retired director of a think tank that figured prominently in Segal’s previous novel, Shakespeare’s Kitchen (2007), and is busy cataloging, in his small Manhattan office, end-of-the-world scenarios. His staff consists of family and friends, most notably Lucy, a 75-year-old poet with emphysema. It’s she who notices the body hurtling past the window. One of the black dressmakers whose space they acquired has committed suicide after taking her sister to the same New York hospital ER where Joe is a frequent visitor. Soon, Joe’s outfit is working with Dr. Haddad to investigate the staggering surge in Alzheimer’s cases. Joe has hinted that undefined “entities” may be using the ER to create an epidemic. Stated that baldly, it sounds pretty silly, but then, this is not a conventional medical-disaster novel, but a wild flight, complete with loops, tangents and quizzical asides. What follows is a parade of new intakes, all about to lose their minds. Observing them unofficially is Lucy, who is being driven crazy herself by the refusal of a magazine to pass judgment on a months-old submission. Back to Dr. Haddad, who, as the hospital’s spokesperson, declares “[t]here is no emergency room...that is not liable to raise the stress level to one that can cause temporary dementia.” That exposes Segal’s debunking of the Byzantine bureaucracy of the American hospital, but it does not prepare readers for the dark ending: a tableau of the demented, all stark naked, and Joe on his deathbed.

A sassy circumnavigation of hospital culture and mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61219-302-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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