A promising writer gives the love triangle an engaging workout under challenging constraints.

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THE SIXTEENTH OF JUNE

An uneven debut has fun with James Joyce while packing years of a family’s life into a single day.

Taking its title from the date on which Joyce set Ulysses, Lang’s novel concerns the Portman family of Philadelphia on the 2004 centennial of what’s known as Bloomsday. Brothers Stephen and Leopold, with the latter’s fiancee, Nora, prepare for the funeral of Grandma Hannah Portman, which takes place only hours before the annual Bloomsday party thrown by the brothers’ parents. Nora recalls her mother’s funeral a year earlier following a long battle with cancer: “She and her mom had been stranded on an island, the tropic of cancer with its thickets of growth.” Lang works disease, aging, death, sibling friction and fraying love into the novel’s brief time frame mainly through the wandering thoughts of the three younger characters. The richest moments stem from Stephen’s friendship with Nora and his empathy with Hannah, formed through weekly visits to her retirement home. By contrast, the parents are thinly drawn, almost types: the wealthy former fund manager and the socialite seeking a good cause. It’s uncertain if either has ever read Ulysses through, which raises the fundamental question of why such people would name their sons for the novel’s two heroes and honor a notoriously obscure book every year. Lang’s numerous allusions to Joyce’s epic may amuse those in the know, but they don’t often enhance the story. She can draw a sharp image—“another old-timer, a fluff of white hair over a stick of a body, like a Q-tip”—yet the writing is dotted with clichés or oddities, such as: “Their friendship bobs between them like a current, keeping Leo at bay.” That’s a lot of water.

A promising writer gives the love triangle an engaging workout under challenging constraints.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4574-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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