While some portions prove of limited interest, this tale encompasses a number of surprising landscapes.


Play on Words


A debut satirical novel explores the commercialized modern world.

With degrees in business and engineering, Emily England finds a well-paying job as an operations officer at a manufacturing company. Though she must answer to the frequently blunt CEO, one “very stubborn senior citizen” called Mr. Sir, her occupation brings her face to face with “everything that made the modern-world tick.” Unfortunately for Emily, it is just such a world that has made her increasingly unsatisfied. Whether it is the many odd chemicals in her mass-produced food or the sheer size of many corporations (“faceless, monolithic entities,” she calls them), she encounters much to gripe about. Fortunately for Emily, she meets a guy named Mike Harrison, a man in whom she finds a kindred soul. With their relationship blossoming, the two dream of one day escaping their daily grinds and living off the grid the way that two of Mike’s friends do. Meanwhile, Emily’s sister Elizabeth gives lectures on the evolution of modern English and the present-day state of the language. A popular professor, she dislikes Shakespeare and manages to amuse her rapt audience (“Elizabeth waited to let everyone calm down and stop laughing”). What is the reader to make of all this modernity? As bizarre a convergence as it seems, this story contains an odd mix of scenes. Elizabeth’s lectures will certainly interest readers keen on the development of language, though Emily’s time spent at work and in corporate meetings becomes drab indeed. After Mr. Sir offers to stop by the engineering department, the reader is told that “Mr. Sir was sympathetic with production unlike a lot of other chief executives.” Lacking any of the comedy or zaniness of a punchier narrative, the book may leave readers feeling as though they too are attending a meeting of questionable benefit. Brief, at well under 200 pages, and meandering enough to include a mock Wikipedia entry, punks with names like Tough-puff, and telepathy, the novel certainly moves in strange directions.

While some portions prove of limited interest, this tale encompasses a number of surprising landscapes.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4958-0678-0

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Infinity Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2016

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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