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LOVE MAY FAIL

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

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 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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