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The nature of narrative itself would seem to be the focus here in a novel that challenges readers to connect the...

A labyrinthine narrative that wends its way through classical myth, Shakespearean theater, and childlike fairy tale as it twists toward a tentative contemporary conclusion.

British author Haddon has never written anything like the same book twice, but his fourth novel is in some ways even more audacious and ambitious than his breakthrough debut (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, 2003). The plot propels itself forward at a furious clip, yet key characters disappear (and occasionally reappear) as the basic premise hopscotches centuries and countries. It begins with a bang, or rather a crash. A very rich man loses his very beautiful and pregnant wife when the small plane on which he never should have let her fly crashes into farmland, the pilot momentarily distracted by her beauty. A doctor who happens to be passing assists in the birth of her daughter, whose life begins as her mother’s ends. The forlorn father can find life’s only consolation in his daughter, named Angelica, and they share an incestuously secret life amid “the vapour of fantasy which always surrounds the rich, powerful and reclusive.” Angelica has some sense that these intimacies are wrong, a violation, but it is only with the arrival of the modern equivalent of a handsome prince that she feels she needs to escape; she needs this hero to rescue her, for, upon their first meeting, “she is already in thrall to an imagined future in which he takes her away from all this, and the knowledge that the fantasy is ridiculous does nothing to sour its addictive sweetness.” The attempted rescue almost results in a murder, but the prince himself escapes. At which point the story shifts to a different father and daughter, a king and a princess, who may well be an earlier incarnation of the same father and daughter. This tale has proven captivating since classical times and was popularly given form in the Shakespearean play Pericles. So Pericles becomes a character in this novel, as does Shakespeare, or perhaps his ghost. Pericles marries the princess and becomes a mourning father whose pregnant wife dies during an ill-advised voyage. Or did she die? The adventures of Pericles consume 14 years of the narrative, in which he grieves his wife and might have to save his own daughter. And Angelica? The novel ends with her yet seems to open into a whole new world.

The nature of narrative itself would seem to be the focus here in a novel that challenges readers to connect the multidimensional dots.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54431-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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