An overstuffed ode to bygone pop culture and the unattainable literary life.

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LOVE MAY FAIL

When a metal head princess, a reformed junkie, a fast-talking woman of God, and a despondent retired teacher walk into a book, unpredictable chaos ensues.

In his amusing but disjointed new novel, the author of The Silver Linings Playbook (2008) channels four troubled narrators to varying effect. First we meet Portia Kane, an aging trophy wife about to shoot her porn-producer husband and his perky teen lover. Then she wisely abandons this plan and storms out, instead embarking on a quest to save her hoarder mother, her suicidal high school English teacher, and—you knew this was coming—herself (in an awkward little subplot, this involves publishing a book that gets a poor Kirkus review). The teacher, Mr. Vernon, barely survived a beating by one of his students and now lives alone in the woods with a broken spirit, a lot of wine, and a dog named Albert Camus. (Quick does his best work with Vernon, who lusts after “the noses of Jewish women” and waxes nostalgic for “late PBS painter Bob Ross.”) Portia lands on his doorstep in time to delay his death but not before she reconnects with a hometown friend’s handsome brother, who’s been crushing on her for 20 years and later chronicles their relationship in his own section. Need a breath yet? Take one now, before the nun. Our final tour guide is Sister Maeve Smith, who speaks from beyond the grave via letters to her son, aka Mr. Vernon, after she meets Portia on a plane. Call it fate, call it coincidence, call it too much plot—either way, you can’t fault Quick for being short on ideas. All his books have been optioned for movies, including this one, and they almost make more sense that way: it’s easy to imagine this quartet of busy narrators, whose similar voices sometimes fall flat on the page, brought to life beautifully by the right cast.

An overstuffed ode to bygone pop culture and the unattainable literary life.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-228556-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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