A second collection from Giles (after Rough Translations, 1985) evokes the bitter quality of declining lives in terse—and ultimately depressing—tales. The suppressed resentment between former mates is a favorite underlying theme of this San Francisco writer's work, and her characters' sour, often self-righteous anger is evident right at the start. In ``War,'' a cynical ex-wife returning from a political meeting in Nicaragua notes the many ways her ex-husband has left his ugly mark on her house and daughter in her absence, and mocks the televised accounts of what's happening in Nicaragua with equivalent rage. In ``Leaving the Colonel,'' a housewife tells an imaginary TV interviewer exactly how she will abandon her neglectful husband. Leaving divorce behind, the tone turns weird in ``Talking to Strangers,'' in which the ghost of a murdered woman describes her ambush and dismemberment beside a hiking trail; a woman in ``The Writer's Model'' answers the tedious and puerile questions of a circle of nosy male authors, but gives up when a curious Martian shows up. In the intriguing tale ``Smoke and Mirrors,'' the heroine considers an affair with the brooding husband of a friend. The collection concludes with several complex, textured, moving explorations of grief and other sadnesses. ``Creek Walk'' describes a woman mourning her mother's death. In the angry ``Maximum Security,'' a divorced and financially strapped mom fails to get the promotion she needs. The best tale is, perhaps, the last. ``Untitled'' features a creative writing instructor bidding good-bye to her current group of students, knowing that her teaching contract has not been renewed. Here, at least, the heroine's bittersweet reflections exhibit some nuance. Often heavy-handed, but original as well: Giles's stories don't make a pretty picture, but often they do offer a convincing one.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-57601-023-6

Page Count: 144

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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