Fast-flying, if sometimes-simplistic, pieces that celebrate patient observation and the beauty of birds.


Wild Notes


Short pieces capture a Chicago-area bird watcher’s thoughts as he looks for glimpses of life on the wing.

The one-page reflections here first appeared in the online magazine Two-Fisted Birdwatcher in its “Daily Sightings” category. The magazine was founded by Lubow (Paper and Ink: Stories, 2015), a former creative director at one advertising agency and founder of another. He’s not an ornithologist, however—he’s a “regular guy” jotting down his sightings as he looks at birds or takes short wilderness walks. He’s knowledgeable about birds’ names, habits, colors, and so on, but wears it lightly, saying, for example, of the many varieties of warbler, “screw their picky little names.” Many pieces speak of Lubow’s longing for the wilderness that underlies his big-city life. He grabs moments on weekends, while on his way from a presentation, or while driving home from work. Yet, he says, “When you leave the woods, all settled and free of words, what craziness makes you go to the keyboard and type these?” Many readers will find the tension of this contradiction to be relatable. Lubow’s advertising background gives him a good instinct for pared-down prose and punchy lines that approach the directness of poetry, as in “Place names”: “I’m not in the business of naming things. Still, that doesn’t stop me from remembering them. And, in a way, that’s the same thing.” That said, the pieces’ stripped-down style (and especially their endings) sometimes feel forced, rushed, or oversimplified. Wondering why bee populations are down and cormorants are plentiful, Lubow just shrugs: “What’s going on? That’s up to science to figure out, if it can,” concluding that “change happens—get used to it.” Another essay observes a drastic decline in eastern meadowlarks, ending with the question, “was that meadowlark the last one you’re going to see around here?” That would be a shame, and much more than a personal one, but it’s something that Lubow doesn’t really confront. Nevertheless, he succeeds in conveying his love for avians and the excitement of spotting them in the wild.

Fast-flying, if sometimes-simplistic, pieces that celebrate patient observation and the beauty of birds.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4996-2446-5

Page Count: 166

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2015

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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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