Magnificently uncomfortable.

THE INLAND SEA

An unnamed protagonist watches Australia burn as her body burns along with it.

With an almost bored detachment, a recent college graduate and aspiring writer working at a Triple Zero call center (Australia’s version of 911) lists the crises she transfers to emergency agencies: “An old man with chest pains...a woman hiding from her ex-boyfriend under the bed, and a mother whose baby had turned blue.” This aura of detachment doesn't mean the narrator is callous but instead points to a central tension running through the novel: the narrator's desire to be separate from a body that feels too much. Watts plays with this idea of dissociation by creating a heroine who writes to the reader from a future vantage point without ever revealing her own name (and giving pseudonyms to everyone in her life). Nevertheless, the reader is invited to witness the intimate moment when the blood clots slide down the narrator's leg in the shower after she has an abortion. This abortion and the man who impregnated her usher in a series of events that violently echo Australia’s burning landscape. The narrator continuously endangers her body through unprotected sex with strangers, overindulgence in alcohol, and ill-advised swims in riptides; meanwhile, her mind seems to be playing catch-up: “I became aware of a sound that I discovered was being issued from me. A howl.” People around her experience disasters, and she keeps herself outside. She goes through trauma, and she doesn’t know she’s the one screaming.

Magnificently uncomfortable.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64622-018-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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If you love Jennifer Weiner, you’ll love this one. And if you’re a newbie, start here.

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BIG SUMMER

A plus-size Instagram influencer stumbles into a murder mystery when called to serve as a bridesmaid for her fabulous former best friend.

Weiner’s 14th novel, and her second with a murder plot, is also a short course in social media lingo and best practices. At its center is Daphne Berg, a classic Weiner heroine—a young New Yorker who supports herself by working 20 hours a week as a nanny, by selling crafts in her Etsy store, and through sponsorships of Instagram posts for both her (yoga mats, makeup, plus-size fashion) and her pooch (organic dog treats). Her career began accidentally in her sophomore year of college, when her No. 1 frenemy, an exquisitely lovely heiress named Drue Lathrop Cavanaugh, lured her into a humiliating setup in a bar, the last of a long series of mean tricks that began in high school. When her date called her a “fat bitch” and Daphne responded with fury—“I am fat. But that doesn’t mean you get to treat me like garbage”—and video of the incident went viral, she chose to embrace the moment. She has since become a beloved internet avatar of body acceptance #sorrynotsorry #justasIam. Drue has been out of her life for seven years when she bursts back in to beg Daphne to be her bridesmaid at a spectacular, made-for–social media Cape Cod wedding. Against her better instincts, Daphne agrees, and before long she is handmaiden at #drueandstu2020, a beachfront extravaganza Weiner really outdoes herself in describing. Things are going a lot better than Daphne ever could have dreamed—hot sex scene alert!—when the plot takes a turn for the Agatha Christie. But no matter what mayhem transpires, you can always count on Weiner for delicious food. “I squeezed lemon onto my first oyster, added a dollop of cocktail sauce, tipped it into my mouth and gulped it down, humming in pleasure at its sweet, briny taste.” “My mother hugged me hard, and my father mixed up a pitcher of Sidecars and served us his cioppino, with toasted wedges of garlicky toasted baguette.” “Get the malasadas, if they’re fresh.” Turns out they are, and so is this novel.

If you love Jennifer Weiner, you’ll love this one. And if you’re a newbie, start here.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3351-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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