Fiction that explores not only what it means, but why it matters.

MRS. MURAKAMI'S GARDEN

An allegorical novella challenges readers to connect the dots and fill in the blanks.

Though the narrative is short, there is plenty to unpack here as the Mexican-born avant-gardist Bellatin conjures an imaginary Japan where convention is under challenge. Institutions seem to be crumbling beneath their smooth surfaces, and marriage is one of them. Mrs. Murakami has all but lost her identity and personality after marriage, with most of the story detailing her formative years as the schoolgirl Izu. She was bright and independent, constricted by the customs concerning single women, beset by her father’s health and legal issues. As an art student, she finds herself unwittingly in conspiracy with a charismatic professor and the editor of an influential magazine. The professor assigns her to write an analysis of Mr. Murakami’s art collection, which turns out to be a somewhat disparaging appraisal, and the magazine’s director wants to publish it. “ ‘Finally, someone dared to unmask a fraud whose collection rests on obsolete criteria,’ ” the director says. Yet her visit with Mr. Murakami had left him smitten, and despite a chill in the relationship after her piece was published, they married. Even so, his collection had been discredited, and there were rumors of scandal, that he was connected to “a criminal network that purchased used underwear from students at various all-girls schools and sold them to wealthy men.” In marriage, the two seem to know little about each other and care less. His death leaves his wife all but destitute, though she still has her garden, which he continues to haunt. Following the frequently footnoted narrative, the text concludes with an addenda of 24 numbered items, questions, and considerations for the reader, including a potential plot twist that suggests that “the true motivations of the story’s protagonists will never be known.” Bellatin is a playful novelist who isn't trying to hold the mirror to reality, provide allegory or philosophy or life lessons, and reading this provocative novella makes one consider all sorts of assumptions about "why read?" and "why write?"

Fiction that explores not only what it means, but why it matters.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64605-029-1

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Deep Vellum

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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