Movie Game

Ebner’s (All the Talk Is Dead, 2009) novel tells of a cinephile’s search for family, sex, and laughs, wrapped in a mystery.

On the surface, Joe seems like a typical high school student. He’s snarky, rebellious, and equally obsessed with girls and movies (although it’s a toss-up). But beneath his devil-may-care attitude lies a deep emotional reservoir of pain and abandonment issues. Three years ago, Joe’s father, a jack-of-all-trades scientist, abandoned the family following the revelation that Joe’s mother was having an affair. There’s more to Joe’s father’s disappearance than is readily apparent, however, because now the U.S. government is spying on Joe. To make matters worse, Joe’s girlfriend, Alice, died in a tragic accident three years ago. With mom and dad both out of the picture, Joe and his older sister, Loren, are more or less left to fend for themselves. While college student Loren tries to be a positive influence on her wayward brother’s life—balancing her own career aspirations with ad hoc parenting—Joe’s antiauthoritarian, individualistic attitude makes him hard to control. This is not to say that Joe is cruel or disrespectful to his sister; on the contrary, when he discovers that Loren’s boyfriend is not all he claims to be, he steps in to protect her from a broken heart and sets her on the right path. Joe’s story is entertaining, and Ebner keeps the pages turning with a mix of humor and mystery. In a sense, though, Joe’s aforementioned chivalry is indicative of an underlying weakness in the novel. Although the author paints an entertaining portrait of his protagonist, Joe seems just a bit too cool and correct. He’s quick with a quip at every moment and always occupies the moral high ground. Even in situations in which his actions seem deplorable, such as the opening scene—in which Joe follows a loquacious moviegoing couple back to their home to educate them on cinema etiquette—Ebner makes sure that Joe’s antagonists appear even worse by comparison. The narrative voice also remains firmly rooted in Joe’s corner, which makes for a less compelling read.

A fast-paced, humorous novel, but one that rarely offers any critique of its protagonist’s actions.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9930613-0-1

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Pen and Picture

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2015

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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 clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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