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THE ICE HARP

An elegiac, powerful book about a thinker’s limitations.

An aging Ralph Waldo Emerson grapples with an ethical dilemma.

Over the last decade, the stylistic range and subtle connections on display in Lock’s American Novels cycle have afforded many pleasures. This latest installment focuses on Ralph Waldo Emerson, opening two and a half years before his death. He’s showing the effects of dementia—which, unsettlingly, include a moment in which he doesn’t recognize a passage from one of his own works. Emerson also converses with other people, living and dead, with whom he crossed paths. “I hope Garrison doesn’t take it into his head to visit me. His opinions are fiery, and I dread being scorched,” he thinks at one point. In his introduction, Lock writes that this book “can be thought of as a play for voices”—and an early passage in which Emerson ponders the word spoon suggests, perhaps, a slight influence of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape in the mix. Eventually, Emerson must try to focus on the present moment; he meets James Stokes, a Black soldier who deserted after defending himself from a racist attack and killing another soldier in self-defense. As in A Fugitive in Walden Woods (2017), Lock explores the gulf between some transcendentalists' idealism and their reticence to take a stronger moral stance on racism and slavery—and Emerson occasionally muses on Samuel Long, the protagonist of that earlier novel, strengthening the connection between the two books. There’s a profound sadness here, as Emerson muses on his losses, noting that “our bereavements bring us no nearer to God.” And his awareness of his own condition is heartbreaking to ponder: “Soon the universe inside me will slip out like a yolk from an eggshell.”

An elegiac, powerful book about a thinker’s limitations.

Pub Date: July 4, 2023

ISBN: 9781954276178

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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