THE BIG DOOR PRIZE

An eccentric, well-written small-town novel jam-packed with appealing characters and their dreams.

When a photo booth–type machine in the grocery store starts spitting out predictions of people’s true callings, the residents of Deerfield, Louisiana, are deeply affected.

“In the way that aspiring novelists might like to imagine their work someday being discussed in a sophomore literature class…or the way philosophers like to chart the evolution of thought from Socrates to Plato to Jay-Z…Douglas also liked to imagine himself one day becoming part of some traceable lineage.” Douglas Hubbard, a happily married high school history teacher, has a fantasy of becoming a famous jazz trombone player. He’s even signed up for lessons. Unlike the other dreamers in his little town, he came up with this idea all by himself, on his 40th birthday. His wife and many of his neighbors, on the other hand, are carrying around little blue slips of paper produced by a machine called the DNAMIX. They say things like ROYALTY, CARPENTER, LOVER, and MAGICIAN, and because of them the school principal, the mayor, and many others in Deerfield are quitting their jobs, buying costumes, and planning major life changes. There’s something a little strange about Walsh’s follow-up to his remarkable first novel, My Sunshine Away (2015). On one hand, it has a warm, folksy, Fannie Flagg–type feeling, complete with John Prine references galore (the title is one) and a goofy touch of magic. On the other hand, like the author’s debut, it addresses very serious and disturbing issues. It opens with the death of a teenager, as experienced by his twin, and later adds intimations of a school shooting, a gang rape, and a terrible revenge plot. Both aspects are well handled, but do they really go together? When you get a bereaved dad dressed up in a ludicrous cowboy outfit intervening to rescue his son from being gunned down by the police you have to wonder.

An eccentric, well-written small-town novel jam-packed with appealing characters and their dreams.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1848-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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IT STARTS WITH US

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

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The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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