Profound, provocative and sure to spark a reaction.

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    Best Books Of 2012

THE WATER THIEF

In a world ruled by capitalism, an empathetic corporate worker questions the principles upon which the society functions.

Soutter’s debut novel is a scathing, ceaselessly engaging examination of capitalism and corporatism. At Ackerman Brothers Securities Corporation, Charles Thatcher works as a perception manager; his job is to process and deflect any negativity regarding the corporation. Now that the government has crumbled, capitalism is the new regime, with constant demands for profitable information, either substantiated or speculative. Charles hopes for higher compensation by spinning the story of a woman stealing rainwater, but soon after his ploy, he begins to mull over the consequences and regret his actions. A meeting with Kate, a friend of the woman, leaves Charles reassessing the value of a civilization run by the rich, as he wonders how long capitalism can sustain itself. The story intimates that men and their actions—not just an immaterial idea—are the essential cause of immorality, but it centers on the undesirable fallout of money as the corollary source of power. Soutter’s vision of capitalistic supremacy is gleefully absurd: A simple elevator ride costs five cents per floor, and information is only conveyed for a price. Societal classes are now purchasable contracts, and the poor reside in LowSec (Low Security); a citizen’s lot in life, like all commodities, is bought and paid for. There are also welcome dashes of satire derived from characters unable, or unwilling, to acknowledge irony: a perception manager writing a report on an unflattering anti–perception management story; Linus, Charles’ higher-ranking colleague, offers an alternative moral regarding mendacity (he’s not against lying, but rather against telling the same lie more than once). Charles has many lengthy discussions with Kate over now-archaic standards (to them), like people electing other people into power, but their talks are never tedious or repetitive. Their conversations also lead to one of the book’s most potent lines: “The single best indicator of where you end up in life is where you start, no matter what the capitalists tell you.”

Profound, provocative and sure to spark a reaction.

Pub Date: April 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1467972277

Page Count: 248

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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All the narrative propulsion of escapist fiction without the escape.

PHASE SIX

Paced like a prophetic thriller, this novel suggests that "pandemic" is a continuing series.

Shepard has frequently employed research as a foundation for his literary creations, but never before in such pulse-racing fashion. He's set this narrative in the near future, when the threat of Covid-19 has passed but provides a cautionary lesson. And what have we learned from it? Not enough, apparently, as an outbreak within an extremely isolated settlement of Greenland begins its viral spread around the globe. Readers will find themselves in territory that feels eerily familiar—panic, politics, uncertainty, fear, a resistance to quarantine, an overload of media noise—as Shepard's command of tone never lets the tension ease. Eleven-year-old Aleq somehow survives the initial outbreak, which takes the lives of everyone close to him, and he may provide the key to some resolution if anyone can get him to talk. The novel follows the boy and the pandemic from Greenland to a laboratory facility in Montana as, in little more than a month, the virus or whatever it is, spread by touching, traveling, breathing, has infected some 14 million around the world. Jeannine Dziri and Danice Torrone, a pair of young researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who have dubbed themselves the “Junior Certain Death Squad,” find themselves on the front lines as they attempt to balance personal relationships (which occasionally read like plot contrivances) with all-consuming professional responsibilities. Meanwhile, the pandemic proceeds relentlessly. “APOCALYPSE II?” screams a Fox graphic amid “the social media cacophony,” as mass hysteria shows how human nature can take a horrible situation and make it so much worse. And though the novel builds to a sort of redemption, it suggests that there will be no resolution to the current pandemic beyond nervous anticipation toward the ones to come. Channeling Pasteur, Shepard promises—or threatens—“It will always be the microbes that have the last word.”

All the narrative propulsion of escapist fiction without the escape.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-65545-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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