A little manipulative and a lot sentimental but sweet and charming enough that some readers won’t mind.

ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE

Gayle leaves lad lit behind in this sentimental novel about a lonely widower living in England.

Hubert Bird just wants to be left alone. The 84-year-old Jamaican man has been living in the U.K. for nearly six decades; now, scarred by a traumatic event that happened five years ago, he's withdrawn from his friends, choosing only to talk to his cat, Puss, and his daughter, Rose, a professor living in Australia whom he misses intensely. Rose worries about her father’s isolation, so much so that Hubert has invented a coterie of imaginary friends to assuage her concern, complete with backstories so elaborate that “he had to make a record in a notepad to help him keep track.” But when Rose announces she’s coming to visit, Hubert realizes he’s going to have to make some real-life friends, and fast. He turns to his neighbor Ashleigh, a young Welsh woman who’s tried to reach out to him before without success. Ashleigh manages to entice Hubert into joining a “Campaign to End Loneliness” in their London borough of Bromley. Hubert manages to make a lot of friends but still doesn’t know how he’s going to tell Rose that he lied to her for so long. The book goes back and forth between the present and the past, when the reader learns about Hubert’s arrival in England and his relationship with his late wife, Joyce, a White woman whose family disowned her for marrying a Black man. Gayle’s novel doesn’t exactly break new ground—the “grumpy old man who turns out to just be lonely” trope is well worn, and Gayle's prose is, for the most part, workmanlike. This novel is resolutely sentimental and ends with an unnecessary chapter that would have been better left out. But despite all that, Gayle’s book works for what it is, and that’s a testimony to the author’s charm and unfeigned sweetness—the reader can tell he cares a lot about Hubert, and his compassion is contagious.

A little manipulative and a lot sentimental but sweet and charming enough that some readers won’t mind.

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5387-2016-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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