Infernal, haunting monologues.

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THERE ONCE LIVED A MOTHER WHO LOVED HER CHILDREN, UNTIL THEY MOVED BACK IN

THREE NOVELLAS ABOUT FAMILY

Three deceptively simple tales explore the dark terrain of the greedy human soul.

Winner of Russia's Triumph Prize and deft chronicler of beset Muscovites, 76-year-old Petrushevskaya (There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself, 2013, etc.) returns with three bewitching novellas. Although her writing is not overtly political, her gimlet-eyed appraisal of humanity resulted in her work being banned in the Soviet Union for decades. The emotional palette here is gray-toned: love reduced to sex, motherhood to jealousy, empathy to guilt. The ethical dimensions contract; instead of questioning how one ought to behave, Petrushevskaya’s characters simply react, trying to safeguard their meager possessions from suffering relatives. In the longest novella, The Time is Night (previously published as The Time: Night and shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize), an older woman struggles to make financial ends meet and emotional debts balance. Both an insightful poet and a vindictive woman, Anna can at once tenderly care for her grandson and viciously insult her own daughter. The moral quandaries intensify, however, when her son returns home from prison, her daughter hints at moving back home, and her own mother’s bed at the local hospital is lost. The second tale, “Chocolates With Liqueur,” grafts an Edgar Allan Poe motif onto a tale of marital horror. Lelia, a young nurse who has lost her parents and grandfather, manages to carve out a life for herself—that is, until Nikita comes along. Too frightened to reject his advances, Lelia soon finds herself in a loveless, abusive marriage to a man sinking into mental illness. The final novella, Among Friends, traces the Friday night parties of a group of friends. They are bound primarily by their fear of informants and their infatuation with the seductive yet mercurial Marisha. Together, they endure political pressures, broken marriages and deteriorating parents—all of which the shrewd, often calculating narrator observes mercilessly. But there is one betrayal that cannot be endured.

Infernal, haunting monologues.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-14-312166-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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A lovely read—entertaining, poignant, and meaningful.

THE OYSTERVILLE SEWING CIRCLE

After facing tragedy and betrayal in New York, an aspiring fashion designer escapes to her idyllic Pacific coast hometown to raise her best friend’s two young children and finds inspiration, redemption, and love in the unexpected journey.

Caroline Shelby always dreamed of leaving tiny Oysterville, Washington, and becoming a couturier. After years of toil, she finally has a big break only to discover a famous designer has stolen her launch line. When she accuses him, he blackballs her, so she’s already struggling when her best friend, Angelique, a renowned model from Haiti whose work visa has expired, shows up on her doorstep with her two biracial children, running from an abusive partner she won’t identify. When Angelique dies of a drug overdose, Caroline takes custody of the kids and flees back to her hometown. She reconnects with her sprawling family and with Will and Sierra Jensen, who were once her best friends, though their relationships have grown more complicated since Will and Sierra married. Caroline feels guilty that she didn’t realize Angelique was abused and tries to make a difference when she discovers that people she knows in Oysterville are also victims of domestic violence. She creates a support group that becomes a welcome source of professional assistance when some designs she works on for the kids garner local interest that grows regional, then national. Meanwhile, restless Sierra pursues her own dreams, leading to Will and Caroline’s exploring some unresolved feelings. Wiggs’ latest is part revenge fantasy and part romantic fairy tale, and while some details feel too smooth—how fortunate that every person in the circle has some helpful occupation that benefits Caroline's business—Caroline has a challenging road, and she rises to it with compassion and resilience. Timelines alternating among the present and past, both recent and long ago, add tension and depth to a complex narrative that touches on the abuse of power toward women and the extra-high stakes when the women involved are undocumented. Finally, Wiggs writes about the children’s race and immigration status with a soft touch that feels natural and easygoing but that might seem unrealistic to some readers.

A lovely read—entertaining, poignant, and meaningful.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-242558-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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