A surreal and darkly funny set of tales of West Coast strangers.

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PLANTING WOLVES

An experimental debut novel in stories about artists wrestling with addiction and sexual frustration in Los Angeles.

Each of this book’s six chapters is centered on a single character—respectively, “the writer,” Mrs. Randall, Rodney, “the sponsor,” “the sex addict,” and Nelly. While visiting New York City for a reading, the writer gets a drink at a bar, where he discovers that all his fellow patrons can read his mind. In the second chapter, the writer is left behind for a new character, Mrs. Randall, who finds a renewed passion for life when she volunteers at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California, while her soldier husband is deployed abroad. After enduring the loneliness of raising an infant alone and then experiencing a personal tragedy, Mrs. Randall begins to experience states of confusion associated with the onset of dementia; although she “didn’t suffer at the beginning phase of the disease…she was entertained almost all the time,” Disney writes. As readers proceed deeper into Mrs. Randall’s mind, they’ll find nothing that connects her with the writer, and nothing supernatural seems to be afoot. Only the characters’ similar geographical location provides a thin thread of connection; the writer is a recent Angeleno while Mrs. Randall lives in or near Glendale. The next chapter, however, focuses on a man named Rodney, whose father worked at the Alex Theatre; in this way, Disney emphasizes the connection between the characters—and the slightness of it. (Rodney goes on to unexpectedly develop stigmata.) As this collection of vignettes about isolation cycles in the remaining characters, it proves to be light on plot, as a rule. However, it sparkles intermittently with surprising kernels of humor: “It is not in the least bit difficult to hide one’s stigmata on the set of an episodic television show.” The wry observations of each new player manage to cut through their personal misery. As the characters strut and fret their hour on the stage, their stories unfold in a vacuum that each one seems unable to escape.

A surreal and darkly funny set of tales of West Coast strangers.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73335-242-0

Page Count: 249

Publisher: TANDEM Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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