Stories of highbrow farce gleefully doused in lowbrow hilarity.

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Insane-O-Tron

Alverson’s debut is a collection of six darkly humorous short stories highlighted by dragons, earwigs, superintelligent dinosaurs, and a talking, floating piece of hair.

Readers will want to prepare themselves for this series of bizarre tales, ranging from farce to poop humor. In “The Family Family,” TV writer Scott Scotterson, known for his exploitative work, is hired by Alive Network Vice President Rasor Sharp to save a ratings-plummeting family show. His strategy is to pad the script with a dog-poo bandit and a scene of the father pouring hot mashed potatoes down his pants. Similarly, Tommy Walker-Walker in the title story, along with Harry the talking “haircut,” sets about thwarting a scientist bent on destroying humanity. This entails an undercover gig as a janitor at The Dirty Fisherman, whose filthy restrooms more than earn the restaurant its name. Alverson favors the satirical as well as the scatological. The writer behind the hit series, for example, is crazier than his material, getting inspiration from genital pain (self-inflicted or otherwise). The other stories in Alverson’s collection have less viscera and excreta but the same amount of edge. “Mallard Quackenbush,” the book’s best, tells of Peter Hunter, who doesn’t want 16-year-old daughter Jane dating the titular duck, since Peter considers ducks untrustworthy. It’s surprisingly sweet, centering on a father’s genuine concern for his daughter and his (relevant) childhood trauma. Alverson, too, avoids anthropomorphizing Mallard, who quacks and flies like any other duck but with an endearing personality that’s based on pure duckness. Parody throughout is sometimes unsubtle, like a Macrosoft computer or a Better Dwellings and Yards magazine. But the stories overall are frequently charming, including the playful bugs in “The Perfect Day” and the lonely plastic pumpkin in “Terry.” The final tale, “Brave Pony,” follows Gooch the pony, who may be able to save all the ponies in Pony Land from a fire-breathing dragon. It ends predictably but is undeniably amusing, concluding the book with an appropriately comedic send-off.

Stories of highbrow farce gleefully doused in lowbrow hilarity.

Pub Date: July 15, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 173

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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