A deftly crafted tale of an absorbing character in dire straits; readers will be pulling for Rebecca Plotnik.

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NEON DREAMS

The grinding tribulations of a promising young woman breaking from the bad habits sewn by her upbringing.

Mufson introduces readers to Rebecca Plotnik, home after college, in the early 1960s, living with her parents in Las Vegas. Her dreams of an acting career in New York City are busily thwarted by her discouraging mother, her gambling-addicted father and her insecurities. Neon may be blinking in the streets, but Rebecca’s world is pure noir, a shadow land of enfeeblement, asymmetry and an identity in vertigo, freighted with the banality of her everyday woes and the desperation of finding the right somebody to lift her from her emotional flux and head eastward. A biting, chromatic portrait of Las Vegas in the ’60s alternates with Mufson’s sure hand that allows Rebecca to make one bad choice after another, falling for men who are too good to be true—one with charm enough to coax a hungry dog off a meat wagon, another not “merely handsome. He was Art.”—but just this side of believable to make us fall for them as well. She is also artful with the quality of the book’s creepiness—when her father introduces Rebecca to his gang, she says, “I pictured convicts breaking up rocks…I felt like a stripper in a graveyard”; her drop-dead-gorgeous boyfriend Alex’s relationship with his mother is a mix of Oedipus, sunglasses and a vodka martini or three (winningly, Alex’s siblings have figured out his degenerate ways—“So bohemian,” says Rebecca. “Gets pretty boring after a while,” says Alex’s step-brother.) Rebecca may be enslaved to fattening foods and her mother’s admonitions, but she is also a smart cookie, with a worldly eye that knows the difference between Middlemarch and Marjorie Morningstar, and Mufson lets Rebecca’s English professor nail her to the cross—“You may have done your best to turn in a shitty paper, as you called it, but your writing still showed promise—a series of brilliant starts that went nowhere.”

A deftly crafted tale of an absorbing character in dire straits; readers will be pulling for Rebecca Plotnik.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2011

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective.

SUMMER OF '69

Nantucket, not Woodstock, is the main attraction in Hilderbrand’s (Winter in Paradise, 2018, etc.) bittersweet nostalgia piece about the summer of 1969.

As is typical with Hilderbrand’s fiction, several members of a family have their says. Here, that family is the “stitched together” Foley-Levin clan, ruled over by the appropriately named matriarch, Exalta, aka Nonny, mother of Kate Levin. Exalta’s Nantucket house, All’s Fair, also appropriately named, is the main setting. Kate’s three older children, Blair, 24, Kirby, 20, and Tiger, 19, are products of her first marriage, to Wilder Foley, a war veteran, who shot himself. Second husband David Levin is the father of Jessie, who’s just turned 13. Tiger has been drafted and sends dispatches to Jessie from Vietnam. Kirby has been arrested twice while protesting the war in Boston. (Don’t tell Nonny!) Blair is married and pregnant; her MIT astrophysicist husband, Angus, is depressive, controlling, and deceitful—the unmelodramatic way Angus’ faults sneak up on both Blair and the reader is only one example of Hilderbrand’s firm grasp on real life. Many plot elements are specific to the year. Kirby is further rebelling by forgoing Nantucket for rival island Martha’s Vineyard—and a hotel job close to Chappaquiddick. Angus will be working at Mission Control for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Kirby has difficult romantic encounters, first with her arresting officer, then with a black Harvard student whose mother has another reason, besides Kirby’s whiteness, to distrust her. Pick, grandson of Exalta’s caretaker, is planning to search for his hippie mother at Woodstock. Other complications seem very up-to-date: a country club tennis coach is a predator and pedophile. Anti-Semitism lurks beneath the club’s genteel veneer. Kate’s drinking has accelerated since Tiger’s deployment overseas. Exalta’s toughness is seemingly untempered by grandmotherly love. As always, Hilderbrand’s characters are utterly convincing and immediately draw us into their problems, from petty to grave. Sometimes, her densely packed tales seem to unravel toward the end. This is not one of those times.

To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-42001-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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