VERY NICE

Can you top this? is the question posed by each chapter of this upmarket soap opera, and the answer is always yes.

Five narrators play a game of narrative hot potato with a tale of summer sexcapades.

Rachel Klein is a student at "that overrated liberal arts school on the Hudson." As the novel opens, she offers to dogsit for her creative writing professor, Zahid Azzam—"the name of either a superhero or terrorist"—while he goes home to Pakistan. Then they have sex. Meanwhile, up in glorious bougie Connecticut, Rachel's father, Jonathan, has left her mother, Becca, and Becca's beloved poodle has died. So when Rachel shows up for the summer with a nearly identical poodle and in a few weeks the dog is followed by its owner, the supersexy, famous Pakistani writer—well, Becca is in a vulnerable position to say the least. Dermansky (The Red Car, 2016, etc.) gives each of the Kleins and Zahid a turn at being the narrator and throws in one more—a lesbian financial analyst named Khloe who is subletting Zahid’s apartment in Brooklyn. Khloe's interior monologue contains lines like these: "Honestly, this kind of shit did not happen to me. I was tall and biracial and sexy." Khloe's twin sister is a writer named Kristi who has stolen Khloe's childhood secrets for her own award-winning first novel, nominated of course by Zahid. Now maybe Kristi can help him get a job at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she teaches, prying him out of his very long lost weekend in Connecticut. There are many funny writer jokes in this book, among them the commentary on Rachel's parents' marriage provided by her short stories; in a way the whole book is a writer joke. All the characters sound the same—like Dermansky, except with more or less profanity—and that seems to be intentional. "We appreciate short sentences," says Rachel's mom, speaking for all of them, really. Dermansky has won herself a cadre of devoted fans, especially among other writers. This may not be the best thing she's ever written—it doesn't have the sneaky profundity of The Red Car—but it's a hell of a lot of stylish fun.

Can you top this? is the question posed by each chapter of this upmarket soap opera, and the answer is always yes.

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-65563-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

LOVE AND OTHER WORDS

With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.

Eleven years ago, he broke her heart. But he doesn’t know why she never forgave him.

Toggling between past and present, two love stories unfold simultaneously. In the first, Macy Sorensen meets and falls in love with the boy next door, Elliot Petropoulos, in the closet of her dad’s vacation home, where they hide out to discuss their favorite books. In the second, Macy is working as a doctor and engaged to a single father, and she hasn’t spoken to Elliot since their breakup. But a chance encounter forces her to confront the truth: what happened to make Macy stop speaking to Elliot? Ultimately, they’re separated not by time or physical remoteness but by emotional distance—Elliot and Macy always kept their relationship casual because they went to different schools. And as a teen, Macy has more to worry about than which girl Elliot is taking to the prom. After losing her mother at a young age, Macy is navigating her teenage years without a female role model, relying on the time-stamped notes her mother left in her father’s care for guidance. In the present day, Macy’s father is dead as well. She throws herself into her work and rarely comes up for air, not even to plan her upcoming wedding. Since Macy is still living with her fiance while grappling with her feelings for Elliot, the flashbacks offer steamy moments, tender revelations, and sweetly awkward confessions while Macy makes peace with her past and decides her future.

With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2801-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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