A novel of ideas that would’ve benefited from more emphasis on the novel and less on the ideas.

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SQUARE WAVE

An intellectual who earns his living as a “watchman” in a rapidly deteriorating America investigates a brutal assault while also researching his ancestors’ imperial exploits in 17th-century Sri Lanka.

In a satisfying twist on more traditional dystopian fare, the America of the future is unsettlingly recognizable in de Silva’s debut novel. Yes, faith in government has crumbled, violence is frequent, and various factions are warring with each other, but Starbucks and Target have managed to survive the chaos. In the fictional city of Halsley, Carl Stagg is paid to “wander and watch,” pacing the streets at night on the lookout for unusual activity. His routine is interrupted, however, when he discovers a severely beaten prostitute and begins to search for clues as to the perpetrator. Subplots abound and eventually coalesce: a fellow watchman is involved in a project to manipulate the weather; the prostitute, Jen, immerses herself in the adult film industry; Stagg, whose true passions are writing and history, prepares a series of lectures about European interlopers in Sri Lanka in the 1600s (some of the novel’s best chapters are set then). De Silva manages these varied plots skillfully, but in a novel rife with academics, his penchant for jargon too often makes the prose difficult to parse. A musician considering the “physics of sound” realizes that if he “were serious about cleaving to the harmonic series, what mattered was saving the smaller integral ratios, especially the superparticulars, as Ptolemy’s scale did.” Digressions into science and philosophy are equally abstruse. This cascade of detail ultimately serves to obscure big ideas, not illuminate them, and readers may find themselves too put off by the flood of exposition to engage with an otherwise intriguing story.

A novel of ideas that would’ve benefited from more emphasis on the novel and less on the ideas.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-937512-39-2

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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

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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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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