A story that’s studded with emotional insights despite its lack of narrative drive.

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THE BIOGRAPHIES OF ORDINARY PEOPLE

VOL. 1: 1989-2000

Dieker’s debut novel charts the twists and turns of a family’s life at the dawn of the digital age.

Nothing much happens in this episodic first installment of a two-book series, yet its characters are never still. As the story opens in 1989, Meredith is 7 years old and the eldest of three girls in the Gruber family. It’s their mother Rosemary’s 35th birthday, and they’re packing to move from Portland, Oregon, to Kirkland, Missouri, a small town with a population of just 2,053 people. There, paterfamilias Jack has a new job teaching music at the college. Many events in the novel depict everyday rituals that are sure to resonate with readers; the Grubers run errands, practice the piano, eat dinner, invent games, and watch television. The girls attend school, make friends, and gently test their mother’s controlling tendencies. Rosemary finds work in a bank, where she thrives, and Jack is appointed chairman of his department. Later, Meredith edges ever closer to a writing career, vowing, as she begins college, I am going to work as hard as I can to make art.” At times, this overlong, meandering book can be frustrating: where are the dramatic confrontations, and why is everyone so polite? But Dieker excels at depicting how real people think and act. When she writes from a child’s perspective, she successfully portrays the state of knowing but not quite understanding. She’s also astute about communities: “She had already begun to realize that living in a small town meant being known for things.” Readers will empathize when Meredith tells her diary, “The whole thing about being in high school is that everyone is after you to not make any mistakes that might ruin everything.” The youngster’s artistic dreams manifest in lovely ways; for example, she pores over descriptions on videotape slipcases, such as Pretty Woman’s, “to see the kinds of stories adults made for each other.” Purring along in the background are global changes sure to reconfigure the characters’ lives in the second volume—most crucially, the arrival of the World Wide Web.

A story that’s studded with emotional insights despite its lack of narrative drive.

Pub Date: May 23, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 445

Publisher: Pronoun

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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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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