Think of this book as a haunted island with spectral voices and inscrutable mysteries.



The spirit of Bob Marley dominates this novel, which evokes the rich, bottom-heavy sounds of Marley’s music.

You can’t tell the living and the dead here without a score card, and a score card would be too linear a device for this magical realist tale spun by Douglas (Notes from a Writer’s Book of Cures and Spells, 2005, etc.). It’s hard to know which of the myriad narrative strands one should examine first, but we’ll start with the deaf woman named Leenah, who met and fell in love with Marley in 1977 when both were exiles from their Jamaican homeland living in London. Years later, the soul of the reggae superstar and icon of Rastafarianism is implanted into the body of a homeless man huddling in a clock tower in Kingston. The man is referred to throughout the book as a “Fall-down” or a “fallen angel,” and when Leenah, now back home, sees him on the streets, she alone recognizes him immediately as Marley, the father of her daughter, Anjahla. The clock tower itself has a past life of sorts: Centuries before, it was the site of a tree where a black slave boy was hung and was known from that time on as the “Half Way Tree.” Past and present become likewise intertwined throughout the book as such historic personages as Britain’s King Edward VII, black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey, and Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie (referred to throughout as His Imperial Majesty or by the initials “H.I.M.”) make in-and-out appearances, sometimes to confer or get high with the reincarnated Marley in the clock tower. Douglas’ audacious, willful blend of surreal imagery, historic facts, and vividly rendered monologues from all her characters, whether Jamaican-born or not, seems at times to get away from her. Somehow, the spiraling, unwieldy mix is held together by its recurrent invocation of musical motifs borrowed from classic Caribbean pop (references to “background singers,” “dub-side chanting” and “bass-lines”) and, most of all, by the poetic fire of the author’s imagery. When at one point Leenah remembers the living Bob Marley as having “cheekbones which could balance an egg or a flame or a revolution,” it’s almost as if he’s in front of the reader, preparing to let loose a musical cry for freedom.

Think of this book as a haunted island with spectral voices and inscrutable mysteries.

Pub Date: July 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2786-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.


In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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