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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Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

IT STARTS WITH US

The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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