Bring your vocabulary chops with you; you'll be needing them.

LAST ORGY OF THE DIVINE HERMIT

Experimental storytelling keeps Leyner's latest novel whirling around.

Narrative form is an ever malleable plaything in Leyner’s ostentatiously acrobatic new novel. In the simplest possible terms, it’s about a decrepit old anthropologist and his daughter at work on a book about the Chalazian Mafia Faction. Much of the novel is written in the form of a play, in which a patient narrates the action from the words that appear on her optometrist’s eye chart. And so on. Bring a dictionary: The author delights in layering slabs of vocab onto the page (“In another version, the Father and Daughter (named Caesar and Little Madonna) are extinct, rodent-like mammals called multituberculates who’ve been kept in a cryostat for several years”). Folding in on itself in dizzying postmodern loops, setting up motifs and tweaking them in a jazzy frenzy, this is a book written by someone who knows how smart he is. It isn’t so much an invitation as a challenge—if you finish this novel and like it, you must be a being of superior ambition and intelligence. Either that or you have a very high stake in your own literary endurance. Leyner delights in unusual, world-in-a-grain-of-sand narrative delivery; the action in his 2016 novel/memoir/all of the above, Gone With the Mind, takes place in a food court, where the character Mark Leyner holds forth and tells the story to his mom. On the one hand it’s exciting when a book blows narrative convention to smithereens. That said, you don’t read Leyner’s latest so much as you work at it, one allusion-packed page at a time. There’s no distinction between high and low culture here. One moment Leyner quotes a long passage from dance critic Jennifer Homans; a while later comes a riff on “Ryan Murphy’s limited series about a nasal, anorexic, handcuffed Momofuku Noodle Bar dishwasher’s festering toupee fetish.” Because, why not? This is ultimately the book’s saving grace: It is frequently, shamelessly funny enough to make the toil worthwhile.

Bring your vocabulary chops with you; you'll be needing them.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-56050-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

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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