An imaginative but ultimately disappointing set of tales.

AN ACCIDENTAL AMERICAN ODYSSEY

Budman’s collection of short stories offers an occasionally surreal examination of immigration to America with an emphasis on Russian newcomers.

In his debut novel, My Life at First Try (2008), the author looked at life in the United States and Soviet Russia using flash-fiction narratives. His latest collection of 21 tales also observes the American dream through a varied cast of immigrant characters. The opening work, “A Perfect Rhyme Translated From Scratch,” is about a Chinese restaurant server living in a predominantly White hamlet in northern Pennsylvania. Her manager, a wannabe poet who’s separated from his wife, becomes infatuated with her despite the fact she pays him little attention. This is followed by “The Selfless Quarantine,” an eerie vision of a country brought to its knees by a deadly pandemic. In “American Zolushka,” a 20-something Russian woman is intent on applying to a mail-order bride agency, hoping to escape to a “clean and Technicolor” America. This Zolushka (or Cinderella) character reappears in “Five Minutes After Midnight,” now divorced, living in New York state, and involved with the Greek god Morpheus. Such bizarre couplings aren’t unusual in Budman’s writing; in “The Titan. An Office Romance,” for instance, a pre-Olympian god develops a crush on a girl working in the adjacent office cubicle, and in “Super Couple,” Soupmann—Superman’s third cousin, twice removed—falls for Saltwoman. Things get stranger still in the closing story, “Cinderella’s Sister or the Bridge to Nowhere,” in which an old man dies following dental bridgework and decides to phone his dentist from beyond the grave.

The author’s previous set of tales was sardonically amusing, and there’s a scattering of laugh-out-loud moments in this second book. For instance, at one point, a narrator wryly outlines Soupmann’s priorities as a superhero: “He fights for truth and justice, and sometimes for truth and the American way, and sometimes for justice and the American way, but not for all three at once. Otherwise, he’d be stretching too thin.” The author also produces some tremendously witty similes at times; regarding the elderly gentleman’s dentistry, the narrator remarks: “The old man’s mouth feels like the international space station: half of the teeth American and half Russian.” On other occasions, his writing is quite thought-provoking: “Everyone knows that reality is just a poor immigrant next to a dream of a newly minted native.” However, the tales include occasional moments of clipped, grammatically awkward phrasing: “Few minutes later, she was crying on his shoulder. He forgot when the last time a woman did that was.” Soviet-born Budman focuses mainly on the Russian immigrant experience, which he keenly observes. However, it’s disappointing that the stories here largely overlook immigrants of other nationalities. The nameless, underdeveloped Chinese server, for instance, merely becomes a blank canvas upon which her manager can project his skewed fantasies of exoticism: “He imagines her sitting in the lotus position…needles dotting her back.” The end product is, as a result, a somewhat culturally narrow study.

An imaginative but ultimately disappointing set of tales.

Pub Date: July 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-60-489289-5

Page Count: -

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

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APPLES NEVER FALL

Australian novelist Moriarty combines domestic realism and noirish mystery in this story about the events surrounding a 69-year-old Sydney woman’s disappearance.

Joy and Stan Delaney met as champion tennis players more than 50 years ago and ran a well-regarded tennis academy until their recent retirement. Their long, complicated marriage has been filled with perhaps as much passion for the game of tennis as for each other or their children. When Joy disappears on Feb. 14, 2020 (note the date), the last text she sends to her now-grown kids—bohemian Amy, passive Logan, flashy Troy, and migraine-suffering Brooke—is too garbled by autocorrect to decipher and stubborn Stan refuses to accept that there might be a problem. But days pass and Joy remains missing and uncharacteristically silent. As worrisome details come to light, the police become involved. The structure follows the pattern of Big Little Lies (2014) by setting up a mystery and then jumping months into the past to unravel it. Here, Moriarty returns to the day a stranger named Savannah turned up bleeding on the Delaneys’ doorstep and Joy welcomed her to stay for an extended visit. Who is Savannah? Whether she’s innocent, scamming, or something else remains unclear on many levels. Moriarty is a master of ambiguity and also of the small, telling detail like a tossed tennis racket or the repeated appearance of apple crumble. Starting with the abandoned bike that's found by a passing motorist on the first page, the evidence that accumulates around what happened to Joy constantly challenges the reader both to notice which minor details (and characters) matter and to distinguish between red herrings and buried clues. The ultimate reveal is satisfying, if troubling. But Moriarty’s main focus, which she approaches from countless familiar and unexpected angles, is the mystery of family and what it means to be a parent, child, or sibling in the Delaney family—or in any family, for that matter.

Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-22025-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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