Both sentimental and avant-garde, much as with The Dancer Upstairs, the story here beats with so strong a pulse that its...

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SNOWLEG

Another richly imagined tale of thwarted romance from Shakespeare (The Dancer Upstairs, 1997).

Again, the author spins a web of connections among characters whose lives have been warped or effaced by East German treachery under Communism. Peter Hithersay is a student at an English boarding school when his mother reveals, on his 16th birthday, that his father is an East German escapee from a work detail of political prisoners. From then on, Peter is a man unmoored: he becomes “German” at school, skips Oxford for medical school in Hamburg, and, on a fateful trip to Leipzig to see where his mother’s one-night tryst took place, ends up having a fateful one-nighter himself, with a young gamine nicknamed Snowleg. Love strikes Peter hard, but he turns coward when Snowleg takes up his offer to smuggle her to the West. The rest of his life is a bizarre and entertaining postmodern journey of atonement. Working without rest, he becomes a revered resident pediatrician while being romantically hogtied by an older dominatrix-esque artist, losing a ten-year-old patient by a fluke, failing his boards, and being busted for drug addiction. Starting over again, he goes back to school and becomes a gerontologist and Lothario who beds every woman within reach—without, of course, healing the wound that is Snowleg. A chance deathbed encounter with Snowleg’s grandmother prompts a frantic return to Leipzig and a search among Stasi files, a bit of neo-Nazi violence, near-gunplay, and, in the requisite reunion, Snowleg herself: married with children, then divorced, she’s been broken by Peter’s betrayal, though she’s put herself back together again and is an artist.

Both sentimental and avant-garde, much as with The Dancer Upstairs, the story here beats with so strong a pulse that its portrait of a frozen East Germany will remind readers of the journey anyone devastated by loss and betrayal must make in order to reach the point of risking love again.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-15-101146-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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