An uneven book that struggles with its own fragmentation but occasionally offers striking reflections on the strange...

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SILENCE AND SONG

Thon (The Voice of the River, 2011, etc.) explores various forms of grief and trauma in a book with an unusual structure.

The first section of Thon’s book darts back and forth between several fragmented narratives ostensibly connected by a woman’s musings on loss and a shared setting of the Sonoran Desert. Deaths in a family, beginning with a tragic car accident, cripple its members with a claustrophobic, muffling sorrow. South American immigrants trudge across the harsh but extraordinary landscape, suffering terrible deaths from lack of water and welcome. A virtuous man is shot by a troubled child and falls into a coma. None of these stories possess much narrative drive; broken into disjointed pieces and offered in impressionistic style, they serve as pieces of a mosaic that provide a shimmering and elaborate sense of grief but little emotional impact. The sentiments verge on cloying and seem oddly scattered, and the section ends abruptly to make way for a short piece describing a performance in a Salt Lake City literacy center. The third part of the book, the curiously punctuated “requiem: home: and the rain, after,” juxtaposes a Seattle murder with the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. While also often fragmented and working a slippery divide between prose and the rhythm and structure of poetry, the narratives here possess intense emotional resonance. Partly narrated by the sister of the murderer and partly by the “liquidators” charged with obliterating the effects of radioactive fallout, the horrors of both personal and environmental disasters gain real traction, and Thon’s lyrical descriptions give a glimpse of the beauty of possible recovery.

An uneven book that struggles with its own fragmentation but occasionally offers striking reflections on the strange resilience of both humans and the natural world.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-57366-053-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Univ. of Alabama

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed. This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel". It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define. Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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