It’s possible to imagine literary recluses J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee coming out of hiding to forge this shaggy, rakish,...

THEY COME IN ALL COLORS

A gripping, scorching, and at times vexing debut novel tracks the physical and psychological jolts that come with growing up mixed race above and below the Mason-Dixon line at opposite ends of the 1960s.

When we first meet Huey Fairchild, it's 1969 and he’s in very big trouble. The only student of color at an all-boys prep school in Manhattan, the 15-year-old Huey has knocked a white student unconscious in the dining hall. Their dispute is over a girl, though school authorities immediately misperceive the cause. But then, misperception is the story of Huey’s life, and author Hansen offers the flashbacks to prove it. The story makes frequent and sustained shifts back in time to Akersburg, Georgia, seven years earlier, when 8-year-old Huey, though precocious and keenly observant in so many ways, cannot understand why his summer is being ruined at every turn. First, the local swimming pool is shut down shortly after he’s about to use it. Then black protestors show up outside a downtown luncheonette to demonstrate, and in the ensuing uproar, Huey is struck by a car and breaks his arm. Then a black farmhand who’d worked with Huey’s white peanut-farmer father before joining the demonstrations falls to his death from a ladder, arousing grief and suspicion from the local black community. Huey’s reactions throughout that summer of 1962 are curious. His attitudes toward the local African-American population are as oblivious and, sometimes, dismissive as those of his father. At one point, he recalls thinking of his light-skinned black mother as “the darkest white person I know.” And there’s no letup when the summer ends. His first day back at school, the younger Huey responds to a barrage of racial epithets directed toward him by saying to his teacher, “my daddy is white, so I’m white. You know that, right?” Such credulity mystifies and, at times, exasperates the reader until one understands that Huey’s painful passage toward understanding himself is a proper analogy for the struggle America has, to the present day, to understand its own complex fate.

It’s possible to imagine literary recluses J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee coming out of hiding to forge this shaggy, rakish, yet haunting account of a smart aleck’s coming-of-age in harsh times.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7232-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

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

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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