Imaginative and philosophical, funny and sad, old and new—mazel tov, Mr. Gross.

THE LOST SHTETL

A tiny Polish village the Nazis somehow missed remains disconnected from the modern world—until an unhappy newlywed tears out of town.

“It would have been intoxicating to anyone who had the least amount of interest in World War II and the Holocaust…to delve into an unambiguously happy [story].” So proclaims a scholar writing about Kreskol, a village in Poland, after it emerges from nearly a century of total isolation and anonymity to become a national cause célèbre. If Gross’ debut novel is not an unambiguously happy story—not only the Holocaust, but the random cruelty of fate and the general stupidity of humankind have fingers in the pie—it is great fun, packed with warmth, humor, and delightful Yiddish expressions. (Only to be expected from the author of the memoir From Schlub to Stud: How To Embrace Your Inner Mensch and Conquer the Big City, 2008.) Reaching into the storytelling tradition that stretches from Sholem Aleichem to Isaac Bashevis Singer to Michael Chabon, the author spins an ingenious yarn about the struggle between past and present. The narrator is a nameless townsperson from Kreskol, which as the novel opens seems to be from another era, a sweet Jewish village with matchmakers and farmers and open-air markets, several synagogues and plenty of gossip. But one day a spirited beauty named Pesha Lindauer decides she cannot put up with the putz she’s recently married for one more minute. “This was not exactly a surprise to most of the people in our town,” says the narrator, who often uses the collective “we” in a way reminiscent of Tova Mirvis’ The Ladies Auxiliary. Pesha is the first person to leave Kreskol in a very long time, and eventually the town elders send the mamzer (technically, bastard) Yankel Lewinkopf after her. Yankel is an unlikely but endearing hero, and his adventures in the world of smartphones and underarm deodorant unfold in unexpected, entertaining, and sometimes very sad ways. “What was the point of freedom in a town like Kreskol, where everyone knows one another’s business and his future was more or less written already?” This seemingly light fable may leave you meditating on serious questions.

Imaginative and philosophical, funny and sad, old and new—mazel tov, Mr. Gross.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06299-112-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: HarperVia/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

SOOLEY

Legal eagle and mystery maven Grisham shifts gears with a novel about roundball.

What possessed Grisham to stop writing about murder in the Spanish moss–dripping milieus of the Deep South is anyone’s guess, and why he elected to write about basketball, one might imagine, speaks to some deep passion for the game. The depth of that love doesn’t quite emerge in these pages, flat of affect, told almost as if a by-the-numbers biography of an actual player. As it is, Grisham invents an all-too-believable hero in Samuel Sooleymon, who plays his way out of South Sudan, a nation wrought by sectarian violence—Sooley is a Dinka, Grisham instructs, of “the largest ethnic class in the country,” pitted against other ethnic groups—and mired in poverty despite the relative opulence of the capital city of Juba, with its “tall buildings, vibrancy, and well-dressed people.” A hard-charging but heart-of-gold coach changes his life when he arrives at the university there, having been dismissed earlier as a “nonshooting guard.” Soon enough Sooley is sinking three-pointers with alarming precision, which lands him a spot on an American college team. Much of the later portion of Grisham’s novel bounces between Sooley’s on-court exploits, jaw-dropping as they are, and his efforts to bring his embattled family, now refugees from civil war, to join him in the U.S.; explains Grisham, again, “Beatrice and her children were Dinka, the largest tribe in South Sudan, and their strongman was supposedly in control of most of the country,” though evidently not the part where they lived. Alas, Sooley, beloved of all, bound for a glorious career in the NBA, falls into the bad company that sudden wealth and fame can bring, and it all comes crashing down in a morality play that has only the virtue of bringing this tired narrative to an end.

Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54768-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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