Original, richly felt, deftly written. Highly recommended.

APHASIA

In Ecuadorian Cárdenas' second novel—after The Revolutionaries Try Again (2016)—a once-reluctant father tries to balance family with an awareness of lost possibilities while his sister's life unravels.

Antonio Jose Jiménez immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia to fulfill his dream of an Ivy League education. Now a divorced database analyst, he lives in a small apartment connected through a purgatorial laundry room to the apartment he once shared with his wife and two young daughters. Struggling to write in his spare time, he avoids thinking about his sister or his own failed marriage by remembering former girlfriends (one of whom chose "László Krasznahorkai" for their safe word) and having sex with college students he meets on a site called Your Sugar Arrangements. He studies fathers in fiction and movies. "To learn how to be a father from a movie might sound ridiculous…but how else do men learn to be fathers different from their own monstrous fathers?—holotropic breathwork?" Divided into five sections of short chapters, the story unfolds in a fragmented, fractured style, the long, breathless sentences dizzying and richly packed with memories, connections, and literary references. Cárdenas undercuts the idea of a single, stable identity and suggests the self as a many-layered work in progress. On the YSA site, Antonio calls himself Arturo. At work, consumed by thoughts of "the other lives he could have lived if he’d left his former wife when he was planning to, three weeks before conceiving Ada," he imagines different versions of himself, including Antonio I (soccer player), Antonio VIII (writer), and Antonio V (database analyst), who "creates a spreadsheet to tabulate the other Antonios." Meanwhile Antonio's sister has a schizophrenic break brought on in part by their traumatic childhood with an abusive father. Confronted with discomfort, Antonio's brain "activates its emergency erasure mechanisms." A person, he thinks, is "an accretion of misfortunes," aphasia "a metaphor for expressive paralysis." Fans of the author's inventive, ambitious debut novel will find the same sardonic intelligence, paired here with a deep humanity. Despite erasure mechanisms and paralysis, Antonio works to be a better brother, a better parent to his girls. "Everywhere we went I saw grandmothers looking at us and marveling at a world where fathers and daughters held hands."

Original, richly felt, deftly written. Highly recommended.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-25786-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

more