Tense, skillfully crafted, and illuminating tales of suburban desperation.

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SUBURBAN GOTHIC

A collection of short stories probes the anxieties of life in suburban America.

What makes the suburbs so unsettling? Perhaps it’s the expectation of tranquility and order that, once upset, highlights the troubles stirring beneath the surface. In one tale, a kite caught in a tree becomes a metaphor for a single mother’s mistaken attempt to move back to her hometown. In another story, a woman comes home to find a terrible, monstrous creature sitting in her driveway. She seeks help from two friends, a pair of twin sisters, but her visit to their house devolves into a literal nightmare. In a third, a protective mother puts her child in preschool after failing to find him an acceptable babysitter. But there’s something strange about the other kids there: Why do they just sit and stare like zombies? “Nina was outraged,” begins another tale, the ominously titled “Mullet.” “ ‘I told her!’ she shouted, grabbing fistfuls of her hair, ‘I wanted a layered bob with bangs! And look, look, look at this! What is this!’ ” In these 15 stories, Chen reveals that distress and unease are never far from the minds of her characters, lurking behind white picket fences and insincere smiles. The tales are a mix of shorter pieces that tend toward the surreal and longer, more realistic narratives. Both are enjoyable but the latter more so, particularly “The Zhangs and the Zumans.” The story follows a married couple who return to the house where they used to live, which they now rent out. The house has changed, but what is really striking is that the neighbors—whose antics caused the couple to move in the first place—seem different as well. Here, the wife, Annie, views her former neighbor’s abode as though it were a haunted house: “Although she tried to stop herself, Annie began to fix her gaze upon the large house, as if a magnetic force gravitated forth from its many black windows, pulling her very eyeballs, it seemed, right out of their sockets and towards the walls of staring, glassy recesses.” The author’s prose is exact and taut, building a sense of unease in a way that is so subtle the audience will often fail to realize it until it finally breaks. Readers should look forward to more books from Chen in the future.

Tense, skillfully crafted, and illuminating tales of suburban desperation.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62429-252-1

Page Count: 177

Publisher: OPUS

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: yesterday

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Slow moving and richly layered.

THE SEARCHER

A retired cop takes one last case in this stand-alone novel from the creator of the Dublin Murder Squad.

Originally from North Carolina, Cal Hooper has spent the last 30 years in Chicago. “A small place. A small town in a small country”: That’s what he’s searching for when he moves to the West of Ireland. His daughter is grown, his wife has left him, so Cal is on his own—until a kid named Trey starts hanging around. Trey’s brother is missing. Everyone believes that Brendan has run off just like his father did, but Trey thinks there’s more to the story than just another young man leaving his family behind in search of money and excitement in the city. Trey wants the police detective who just emigrated from America to find out what’s really happened to Brendan. French is deploying a well-worn trope here—in fact, she’s deploying a few. Cal is a new arrival to an insular community, and he’s about to discover that he didn’t leave crime and violence behind when he left the big city. Cal is a complex enough character, though, and it turns out that the mystery he’s trying to solve is less shocking than what he ultimately discovers. French's latest is neither fast-paced nor action-packed, and it has as much to do with Cal’s inner life as it does with finding Brendan. Much of what mystery readers are looking for in terms of action is squeezed into the last third of the novel, and the morally ambiguous ending may be unsatisfying for some. But French’s fans have surely come to expect imperfect allegiance to genre conventions, and the author does, ultimately, deliver plenty of twists, shocking revelations, and truly chilling moments.

Slow moving and richly layered.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-73-522465-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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