Visceral and demanding; an unsettling collection that knocks you off balance.

THINGS TO MAKE AND BREAK

Everyone in Tan’s world is broken and searching for connection, though in the 11 haunting stories collected here, the results are rarely what they bargained for.

With the eerie precision of oversaturated snapshots, each of Tan’s stories captures a different moment of desperation—some otherworldly, others deceptively mundane. In “Legendary,” which opens the collection, a woman studies her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends, searching for herself in their strange, unspoken sisterhood. In “Date Night,” a little girl in Hong Kong spends the night with her Indonesian nanny—new to the country, thousands of miles from her own children—while her mother is out with a date. In “New Jersey,” a teenage girl feels betrayed when her best friend loses her virginity to a boy. Other stories are stranger and more violent: “Laurens” follows a boy-Lauren and a girl-Lauren living brutally parallel lives: “They know how to skin things. Their fathers are hunters. The summer their mothers suicided, the Laurens went to SeaWorld San Diego, where they occupied the same quadrant of the bleachers during the Shamu show.” Both their stories end with blood. In the viciously sad “DD-MM-YY,” twin brothers have been competing for the same girl for years, though her own memories of this are shaky: She’s brain-injured from a car accident. Formatted like a movie script and taking up nearly 50 pages, “Candy Glass” is perhaps the most quietly affecting story in the collection, and the loneliest, about a Hollywood actress who falls for her stunt double. “Maybe funhouse mirrors would be scarier if, instead of making you look bad, they made you look better,” the actress observes, watching her doppelgänger. There is a gentle hesitancy to their relationship; in the end, the stunt double—a trans woman—will leave her, choosing to start fresh. “I’ll stick a flag in my lawn and go to church every Sunday, and marry a man. I’ll be part of the superstructure,” she says. “I don’t know how useful love is, in the long run.”

Visceral and demanding; an unsettling collection that knocks you off balance.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-56689-527-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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