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

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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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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