Under the funky trappings, Wener’s third (after The Perfect Play, 2004) is a satisfying coming-of-age novel with a...

THE HALF LIFE OF STARS

Family drama with surreal touches finds British former pop star Wener (of the ’90s band Sleeper) back in good form.

When her overachieving lawyer brother Daniel goes missing, family failure Claire is the only one with a clue. The theory that he’s intentionally disappeared with help from a mysterious Japanese organization may be far-fetched, but she follows the story from London back to Miami, where the family had spent a few tragic years. While her alcoholic mother, beautiful sister and Daniel’s perfect wife remain caught up in their own preconceptions, the broke, divorced Claire follows a series of odd clues. A waitress in a basement sushi joint provides one lead, a scary Russian sailor another, and soon Claire is on the road, accompanied by her ex-husband, Michael. Trustworthy only in that she knows he will disappoint her, Michael also serves as a means of returning to the city of her youth, moving them in with the dysfunctional Huey and Tess, and their boa constrictor, Harvey Weinstein. While things were weird before—that Japanese organization may only be a television program—they get truly bizarre in America, thanks in part to Valium-laced margaritas. But as Claire learns that her instincts are actually good, it’s her expectations that need adjusting. Some of the characters here are merely caricatures. The rude waitress, for example, sounds like a badly translated haiku: “How empty it would make a man feel,” she says. “How rotten and bruised like soft autumnal fruit dropped prematurely from the tree.” And some situations, such as the encounter with the pet boa’s namesake, are straight slapstick. But even the odder characters ring true emotionally, no matter what their obsessions—and that saves them.

Under the funky trappings, Wener’s third (after The Perfect Play, 2004) is a satisfying coming-of-age novel with a sympathetic heroine.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-084173-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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