Much dribbling punctuated by a few slam dunks.

MY FATHER'S WIVES

Two weeks in the life of a man who caught his wife in flagrante delicto—or did he?

When Wall Street executive Jonathan Sweetwater returns home early—an unlikely occurrence since he's usually jetting around the country at the beck and call of Bruce, a hoops-obsessed CEO who likes to go one-on-one on private NBA-caliber courts—he hears the unmistakable sound of a tryst emanating from a guest bedroom in his Connecticut mansion. A glimpse through the keyhole confirms his worst fears—he sees the backs of two naked people, a long-haired man sitting on the Frette sheets getting dressed and a woman resembling his wife, Claire, walking into the bathroom. Without making his presence known, beyond leaving his briefcase in the living room, Jonathan takes off on another trip. A cat-and-mouse game unfolds: Which spouse is going to admit what to whom and who is going to do it first? Every time Jonathan tries to confront his wife, he is interrupted, in one case by his surprise 40th birthday party. Such a coincidence-dependent plotline threatens to grow wearying, until Greenberg shifts focus to back story—Jonathan embarks on an inquiry about his late father, Percy, a charismatic senator who left his mother when Jonathan was 9 and married five more times. Jonathan has the resources to investigate Percy’s serial monogamy himself while he waits for a private detective’s report on Claire. Greenberg is adept at description and dialogue. The basketball scenes, predictably for this ESPN sportscaster, are compelling—in one, Jonathan challenges Michael Jordan. Jonathan’s conversations with his mother, and the five other wives, in colorful locales—Manhattan, Chicago, Aspen, Nevis and London—are entertaining even if they generate scant insight into Percy’s behavior or its relevance to the burning question at hand—did she or didn’t she? There's a superfluous subplot involving Bruce’s penchant for blackmailing employees. Ultimately, Greenberg paints himself into narrative corners where the only exits are marked with clichés.

Much dribbling punctuated by a few slam dunks.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-232586-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and...

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THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

What if the metaphorical Underground Railroad had been an actual…underground railroad, complete with steam locomotive pulling a “dilapidated box car” along a subterranean nexus of steel tracks?

For roughly its first 60 pages, this novel behaves like a prelude to a slave narrative which is, at once, more jolting and sepulchral than the classic firsthand accounts of William Wells Brown and Solomon Northup. Its protagonist, Cora, is among several African-American men and women enslaved on a Georgia plantation and facing a spectrum of savage indignities to their bodies and souls. A way out materializes in the form of an educated slave named Caesar, who tells her about an underground railroad that can deliver her and others northward to freedom. So far, so familiar. But Whitehead, whose eclectic body of work encompasses novels (Zone One, 2011, etc.) playing fast and loose with “real life,” both past and present, fires his most daring change-up yet by giving the underground railroad physical form. This train conveys Cora, Caesar, and other escapees first to a South Carolina also historically unrecognizable with its skyscrapers and its seemingly, if microscopically, more liberal attitude toward black people. Compared with Georgia, though, the place seems so much easier that Cora and Caesar are tempted to remain, until more sinister plans for the ex-slaves’ destiny reveal themselves. So it’s back on the train and on to several more stops: in North Carolina, where they’ve not only abolished slavery, but are intent on abolishing black people, too; through a barren, more forbidding Tennessee; on to a (seemingly) more hospitable Indiana, and restlessly onward. With each stop, a slave catcher named Ridgeway, dispensing long-winded rationales for his wicked calling, doggedly pursues Cora and her diminishing company of refugees. And with every change of venue, Cora discovers anew that “freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, the empty meadow, you see its true limits.” Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller’s deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass’ grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft’s rococo fantasies…and that’s when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is.

Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-53703-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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