A finely wrought tale of the sometimes-harmful bonds of family and faith.

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LEARNING TO DRIVE

In a deceptively quiet but affecting debut, a young mother is suddenly widowed, and, overwhelmed by guilt and fear, learns to live life to the full on an old Vermont farm.

Though fundamentally a story of self-discovery, this one is unlike so many in its genre in that the demons the protagonist overcomes are mostly spiritual ones, products of a religious upbringing. Charlotte MacGuffey has been raised by her two older sisters, Kitty and Rosey, who stepped in to help their father with ten-year old Charlotte after their mother died. They’d been raised as Christian Scientists, and Kitty, who in adult life becomes a Christian Science practitioner, is particularly zealous about maintaining the family’s adherence. In early December 1952, Charlotte, married to Melvin and the mother of Baird and three-year old Hoskins, tells Melvin, just before he sets off on a business trip, that she wants a separation. Lying awake nights, she’s decided there are too many irreconcilable differences between them. But a few days later, when Melvin, a photographer, is killed crossing a street in Vermont, Charlotte not only feels responsible, but all the old fears and uncertainties fostered by the family’s beliefs that illness and unhappiness are caused by weakness of faith, return. Over the summer, spent on the family farm in Vermont, however, Charlotte begins to change. She falls in love and has an affair with neighboring artist Francis; learns that her mother had diabetes and would have lived if the family had taken her to a doctor; and gets Hoskins, a beautiful child who’s obsessed with order and not yet talking, evaluated by a doctor, who suggests he is autistic. Sister Kitty is appalled at Charlotte’s actions, and her defiance of all Mrs. Eddy’s teachings, but Charlotte, who also learns some comforting news about Melvin’s death, is ready to embrace life, the senses, and the future with courage and hope.

A finely wrought tale of the sometimes-harmful bonds of family and faith.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2003

ISBN: 1-4000-4780-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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