A novel of ideas whose appeal goes far beyond its target audience—be it literary readers skeptical of yet another postmodern...

THE AMBROSE J. AND VIVIAN T. SEAGRAVE MUSEUM OF 20TH CENTURY AMERICAN ART

An elderly woman's first visit to a prestigious (though provincial) museum collides with the otherworldly interests of its curator.

The buzzword nowadays in art-world circles is access—how the concerns and biases of the institution or curator affect which individuals feel welcomed within the museum space. In his first novel, Kirkpatrick (The Exiles, 2013, etc.) weaves a playful and compelling tale that addresses the issue holistically. With the exception of the patrons from whom the fictional museum takes its name, the principal characters remain unnamed. Ambrose J. and Vivian T. Seagrave have lost their daughter, Kendall, through a boating accident instigated by one of their artist hangers-on. Thus, the museum displays the late scion's dollhouses (begrudgingly) and the more esoteric favorites of the curator (haphazardly). Kirkpatrick further addresses the relationship between art patrons and their enthusiasms through allegory; the curator falls in love with the "ghost" of Iris Babbitt, a painter who appears loosely modeled on Georgia O'Keeffe. As the museum tags situating the reader in time and space become longer and stranger, the question of what entity is imposing order on our museum journey pops up. However, interspersed with the onslaught of seemingly disparate information are the ruminations of an elderly town resident visiting the museum for the first time; the woman's narrative, which contends with her own perspective on death and loss, undercuts the curator's. Rather than being led around based on the institution's whim and fancy, we're forced to discern how personal interactions shade our perceptions of art as well as whether the backers responsible for the space have any impact on the viewer outside of financials. Plus we get the surface pleasure of discerning how the author has constructed a plot within these parameters.

A novel of ideas whose appeal goes far beyond its target audience—be it literary readers skeptical of yet another postmodern yarn or art-world enthusiasts jaded about its ivory-tower state of affairs.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-946724-16-8

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Acre

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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