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SEX WITH STRANGERS

In these searing stories, the gulf between who we think we are and who we become when gripped by desire is ever widening.

Eight stories about men and women in the thrall of vertiginous desires, negotiating the precariousness and joys of sex, love, and commitment.

The stories in Lowenthal’s latest collection simmer with fearless honesty as characters struggle with intimacy and learn that we are as much strangers to ourselves as we are to others, even those whom we most fiercely cherish and love. Frenzied by longing and loneliness, these diverse characters startle themselves with their own thoughts, desires, and behaviors and reckon with what their shortcomings and mistakes must mean about who they are. In “You Are Here,” a newly ordained priest is granted the position of chaplain on a cruise through the Caribbean, though this reward for graduating at the top of his class becomes a hurdle when a middle-aged married couple confides in him about the wife’s infidelity and he reencounters an ex-girlfriend, a crew member of the ship. Should an oath be rescinded for the sake of one’s happiness? he asks. And what does it mean that he’s suspended in ongoing attraction and love for his ex when he has renounced corporeal desires in service to God? In “Uncle Kent,” a single mother observes her teenage daughter mature beneath the gaze of a dear family friend. How does she protect her daughter from someone they both trust, and what is the cost? In the collection’s final and most poignant story, “The Gift of Travel,” a young gay man nurses his mentor, a writer afflicted by AIDS, and struggles to salvage a relationship he ruined by cheating. “Thomas had wondered what could be the point in pleasing strangers, but what I found was that I wasn’t focused on the other men, whose names I rarely bothered to discover; the stranger I discovered was myself.”

In these searing stories, the gulf between who we think we are and who we become when gripped by desire is ever widening.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-299-33264-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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ALL FOURS

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

A woman set to embark on a cross-country road trip instead drives to a nearby motel and becomes obsessed with a local man.

According to Harris, the husband of the narrator of July’s novel, everyone in life is either a Parker or a Driver. “Drivers,” Harris says, “are able to maintain awareness and engagement even when life is boring.” The narrator knows she’s a Parker, someone who needs “a discrete task that seems impossible, something…for which they might receive applause.” For the narrator, a “semi-famous” bisexual woman in her mid-40s living in Los Angeles, this task is her art; it’s only by haphazard chance that she’s fallen into a traditional straight marriage and motherhood. When the narrator needs to be in New York for work, she decides on a solo road trip as a way of forcing herself to be more of a metaphorical Driver. She makes it all of 30 minutes when, for reasons she doesn’t quite understand, she pulls over in Monrovia. After encountering a man who wipes her windows at a gas station and then chats with her at the local diner, she checks in to a motel, where she begins an all-consuming intimacy with him. For the first time in her life, she feels truly present. But she can only pretend to travel so long before she must go home and figure out how to live the rest of a life that she—that any woman in midlife—has no map for. July’s novel is a characteristically witty, startlingly intimate take on Dante’s “In the middle of life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood”—if the dark wood were the WebMD site for menopause and a cheap room at the Excelsior Motel.

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

Pub Date: May 14, 2024

ISBN: 9780593190265

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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