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THE DOLORIAD

This novel awes on the sentence level but ultimately bludgeons the reader with the brutality of its larger vision.

A grim meditation on the purpose of survival.

In the opening scene of Williams’ debut novel, youngest child Agathe watches as her father, who is also her uncle, wheels her older sister—the languageless, legless Dolores—into the forest, where he will leave her as a fertility offering to a perhaps apocryphal group their mother believes lives on the other side of ruined Prague. Agathe thinks that Dolores has been chosen for this abandonment due to “the blunt promise of her anatomy: the slack mouth and the round pig eyes; the antiquated languor of her fat white hands.” The cruelty of these perceptions herald the tone used throughout toward the book’s characters, who scrabble to survive in the aftermath of a holocaust which left the Matriarch and her brother as the only viable survivors. Rather than give in to the lethargy of despair, the Matriarch set herself the task of repopulating the denuded Earth, but though the family does survive and even thrive after a fashion, the lack of diversity in the gene pool has a predictable effect. When Dolores crawls back from the forest alone, neither bride nor sacrifice, the Matriarch’s uncharacteristic fallibility destabilizes the precarious balance between the older generation and the younger children who, in their violent strangeness, seem the true inheritors of this new Earth. Williams compiles her images in breathless, smothering drifts that mimic both the oppressive landscape and the gauzy unreliability of the main characters’ perceptions with virtuosic intensity. But while Williams’ linguistic project is akin to the early work of Cormac McCarthy, who mines similar themes with a similar sense of claustrophobic animality, her more absurdist touches (including a TV show featuring Thomas Aquinas and stories within the story that echo both pop culture and the Arabian Nights) guide the novel. This is unfortunate in a book that insists so fervently on the fetishization of its main characters’ disabilities. The result shifts an already deeply challenging book from a meditation on cruelty to an enactment of the same cruelty Williams set out with the intent to explore, but not, the reader has to believe, to indulge.

This novel awes on the sentence level but ultimately bludgeons the reader with the brutality of its larger vision.

Pub Date: March 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-3746-0508-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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LONG ISLAND

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

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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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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