The novel, first issued via Twitter in blocks of slightly more than 100 characters, provides easy entertainment in book form.



The author's first novel lifts the misadventures and mishaps, ambition and artifice from the French Revolution and reproduces them in San Francisco, recalibrating the affair with a touch of post-modernism and more than a whiff of whimsy.

The story begins with Esmeralda Van Twinkle—once a celebrity pastry chef who ambition propelled into eating herself into a morbidly obese copy-shop employee—being seduced by a professional discount coupon distributor, Jasper Winslow. The aphrodisiac is “Zoogman's masterpiece,” a “triple chocolate truffle swirl cheesecake.” The assignation produces twins, Marat and Robespierre Van Twinkle, names bestowed because the boy and girl were born on Bastille Day. Assorted bizarre characters enter, leave and reappear across a narrative timeline, which extends into the future, where opposition to a war in Iran compels daughter Robespierre to enter San Francisco politics. There she will be undone in a race for mayor by a convoluted conspiracy, prompted by Marat's duplicities and with Jasper's sins as the catalyst. Readers might think the latter is a stretch, given what they've learned of humble Jasper. Every character, large or small, is exaggerated past eccentricity, a seemingly deliberate plot/narrative device. Esmeralda is never an especially sympathetic protagonist. Her children, her mother, Fanny, a sad tyrant trapped in a widow's cottage, the supporting cast of drug dealers, murderers and such generate no empathy either. But the characters are what they need to be to make the story viable. Chapters begin with short comments on the French Revolution, and history buffs can find allusions to the bloody quest for Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Best of all, Stewart's language sparkles, sometimes riffing like Bob Dylan, always moving the narrative forward. 

The novel, first issued via Twitter in blocks of slightly more than 100 characters, provides easy entertainment in book form.

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59376-283-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2017

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

Did you like this book?


Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed. This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel". It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define. Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

Did you like this book?