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

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The emotions run high, the conversations run deep, and the relationships ebb and flow with grace.

REGRETTING YOU

When tragedy strikes, a mother and daughter forge a new life.

Morgan felt obligated to marry her high school sweetheart, Chris, when she got pregnant with their daughter, Clara. But she secretly got along much better with Chris’ thoughtful best friend, Jonah, who was dating her sister, Jenny. Now her life as a stay-at-home parent has left her feeling empty but not ungrateful for what she has. Jonah and Jenny eventually broke up, but years later they had a one-night stand and Jenny got pregnant with their son, Elijah. Now Jonah is back in town, engaged to Jenny, and working at the local high school as Clara’s teacher. Clara dreams of being an actress and has a crush on Miller, who plans to go to film school, but her father doesn't approve. It doesn’t help that Miller already has a jealous girlfriend who stalks him via text from college. But Clara and Morgan’s home life changes radically when Chris and Jenny are killed in an accident, revealing long-buried secrets and forcing Morgan to reevaluate the life she chose when early motherhood forced her hand. Feeling betrayed by the adults in her life, Clara marches forward, acting both responsible and rebellious as she navigates her teenage years without her father and her aunt, while Jonah and Morgan's relationship evolves in the wake of the accident. Front-loaded with drama, the story leaves plenty of room for the mother and daughter to unpack their feelings and decide what’s next.

The emotions run high, the conversations run deep, and the relationships ebb and flow with grace.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1642-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

HORSE

A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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