HONEYSUCKLE & PAIN

From the The Familiar series , Vol. 3

It’s a marvel of postmodern storytelling and decidedly not for every taste. For the moment, suffice it to say that things...

“Look at it, Xanther, breathe it in, never forget: this is what you get when there is no law.” The saga continues, and Xanther’s happy world is cracking at the edges.

Experimentalist-plus-some Danielewski (Into the Forest, 2015, etc.) is one-ninth of the way into his 27-volume opus, The Familiar, and the chickens, if not felines, are beginning to come home to roost. Just barely adolescent, Xanther, the geeky but resourceful center of the piece, is beginning to feel stirrings of a psychic unease that in turn hints at untold powers of mind: when her dad, Anwar, hits a squirrel while out driving, she tries mightily to save it, then subjects herself to a kind of self-interrogation: “the Question Song re-announces itself now with everything about that little creature: how old was it? 432 days. was its mother still alive? No. its father? No. was it a he or a she. She was pregnant.” Xanther is just trying to live a normal life, what passes for normal life for her anyway, in a summer full of—yes—blooming honeysuckle and plenty of pain. That’s no easy task, that normality, in a world full of Islamic State group atrocities, Salvadoran street gangs, and chained alpha felines: “You always keep your hands between your face and the jaws….And you never say no to a lion.” Anwar, meanwhile, is worried sick, for being an eccentric polymath doesn’t pay the bills. Danielewski’s vision of the near-future is dystopian but not Blade Runner so: his world is pretty much like ours, save that not everyone speaks in ways that are easily comprehended, especially the faraway Asian players whose missing cat somehow tumbled into Xanther’s world in the first volume. Such a future requires all sorts of odd typographic conventions, drawings, and Go notations, natch, and Danielewski obliges until the reader’s head spins.

It’s a marvel of postmodern storytelling and decidedly not for every taste. For the moment, suffice it to say that things are looking dicey for Xanther and company.

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-375-71498-6

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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DEVOLUTION

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

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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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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