A formidable work that resists narrative orthodoxy.

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DISTORTED DAYS

The lives of ordinary Britons intertwine and evolve in this impressionistic literary novel.

Dreamlike shifts in perspective dominate this new work by Worthington, the author of Stained Glass Lives (2020). Doris Gambol secures a job at the library in Shrewsbury, England, after her husband leaves her. One day, a man collapses from insomnia at her branch; the chief librarian, Colleen Collect, calms him by reading from a book.As Colleen reads, he falls asleep, as the author poetically describes: “letters, words and sounds make a run for his coat and under his collar….Then a hissing sound envelops the three of them, a low fluting hiss, the gentle but certain beats of a Z.” After Doris leaves work, Colleen takes up the role of protagonist; on her way home, she visits her husband’s grave, then prepares for her friend, Andy, a grocery store employee, to drop by her house; when he does, the story moves to his perspective. In the same way one’s brain makes sense out of random events, the novel provides crucial bits of information here and there to orient readers. However, it still leaves readers to puzzle out the relationships between the characters, and it’s a tactic that can prove disconcerting, especially because Worthington employs heavy repetition; for example, when Doris drinks, the following passage is repeated, nearly verbatim, several times throughout the novel: “They make her drink. Guzzle until her stomach is a well, so full it begins to pour over the top and trickle down Utkinton Street, a red rivulet, an S shape all the way to the corner shop and back….” These are rich lines, so much like prose poetry. That said, they will likely bewilder some readers; there are no signposts as to why these sentences bear repeating nearly word for word. As a novel meant for the enjoyment of its language and structure, this work succeeds, but its pyrotechnics overshadow the story and obscure understanding.

A formidable work that resists narrative orthodoxy.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-244-23614-4

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Lulu.com

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2020

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The solution is maddeningly simple but the construction, simply masterful.

ONE BY ONE

Our contemporary Agatha Christie offers up her version of And Then There Were None when 11 people are stranded in a ritzy ski chalet and begin dying one by one.

By the numbers, the streaming app Snoop is devastatingly successful, and the company is on the cusp of a major buyout—if the shareholders vote to take this route. The founders, Topher and Eva, are torn, and the other three shareholders are being courted to choose sides. Most of the pressure falls on Liz, an awkward outlier when compared with the glamorous, beautiful people who head up the company. Though she doesn't work directly for Snoop anymore, Liz is included in the leadership retreat: It's her and eight other board members at a lush, remote French ski chalet for a little powder, a little pampering, and a little back-channel business. Erin and Danny, the caretakers of the chalet, notice tension among the members of the Snoop group from the beginning, but overall it seems like just another wealthy, entitled corporate gathering. The weather on top of the mountain grows increasingly dangerous, and when nine people go out to ski and only eight return, fear and suspicion begin to grow. Then there's an avalanche, and the chalet is cut off from contact with the outside world. Soon, another group member dies, apparently poisoned, and then another is murdered because of something she saw. The survivors must split up to search for help before there's no one left. Alternating chapters between Liz's and Erin’s points of view, Ware does what she does best: Gives us a familiar locked-door mystery setup and lets the tension and suspicion marinate until they reach fever pitch. Another win for Ware and her adaptations of classic mystery traditions.

The solution is maddeningly simple but the construction, simply masterful.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8881-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scout Press/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

ANXIOUS PEOPLE

Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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