Intensely interior and just a bit too sincere for comfort: Reid would have done better to take us out of Iva’s head for a...

IN THE BREEZE OF PASSING THINGS

A lyrical, deeply felt debut about a young girl’s search for her father.

Folks who are down on their luck often move around a lot: divorceés, debtors, ne’er-do-wells, and malcontents of every stripe rarely stay in one place for long. It’s one of the hardest things about being poor, and it’s especially hard on kids, who are usually even more set on their routines than their elders. Sudden uprootings have become routine for ten-year-old narrator Iva Giles and her younger sister Mally, but neither has really got used to them. For several years now, ever since Iva’s tense and harried mother Lily moved the girls from their childhood home (“our true house,” as Iva would have it) in Nacogdoches, Louisiana, they’ve been relocating to smaller and smaller places throughout the South, mainly in an attempt to get as far away as possible from Lily’s estranged husband, Jameson. Affectionate but unstable, Jameson was obsessed with water, constantly disappearing without warning and turning up in some town or other along a coast or riverbank. He was less than useless as a husband and father, but Iva adored him and dreams of a family reunion. Lily wants no part of Jameson, especially now that he’s stopped sending them money. But Iva is determined, and one night she runs away and takes a bus to Pascagoula, Mississippi, where her father was last heard from. Any young girl traveling alone in the dead of night is going to end up knowing more of the world than she ought, but Iva learns as much about herself as about her father, which makes the trip (despite its disappointments) a success in the end.

Intensely interior and just a bit too sincere for comfort: Reid would have done better to take us out of Iva’s head for a bit of fresh air.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2003

ISBN: 1-931561-42-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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