Evocative stories about the way national issues impact even the most personal aspects of life.

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Themes of fear, desire, and national camaraderie flow through Ukrainian author and philosopher Zabuzhko’s (The Museum of Abandoned Secrets, 2012, etc.) eight fiery tales.

Zabuzhko has been recognized internationally for her irreverent voice, and, even within the first few pages of this collection, one can see why. Zabuzhko does not mince words. She takes up space—drawing a sentence out to half a page and a paragraph out to three—and allows her mostly female protagonists to do the same. They follow their tangents, express judgments, and indulge in fantasies. In “Girls,” for example, a woman named Darka reflects on her days as a schoolgirl and her first sexual relationship, with her classmate Effie: “Now, from the vantage point of this dull bare plateau that is called experience, Darka could consider something else: namely that Effie with her innate vulnerability, her innate fragility—she was like a package, its contents cushioned in layers of paper, stamped Fragile on all sides in runny ink and sent on its way, yet without an address—this perfidious, secret, gracious, spoiled, truly vicious and irresistibly seductive inward aflame Effie-Fawn, simply had to find, at an early age, her own way of protecting herself.” On the one hand, this style, overfilled with em dashes and run-on sentences, can come at the price of worldbuilding; without much variety in sentence structure, settling in to each story and adjusting to its pace often feels difficult. On the other hand, if the reader puts in the work, this same whirlwind style produces female characters with fascinating internal lives and emotional crescendos that land. Zabuzhko’s characters struggle with domestic issues like navigating sibling rivalry or accepting a child’s sudden need for independence, each problem made thornier by the omnipresence of gender expectations, the terror of the KGB, or the passion of the Orange Revolution. The final story, “No Entry to the Performance Hall After the Third Bell,” offers a particularly intimate look at the way not only a current war, but the history of war, affects personal relationships. How does a mother protect her daughter from pain and trauma? Which secrets must she hold close and which, in her silence, drive a wedge between her and her daughter?

Evocative stories about the way national issues impact even the most personal aspects of life.

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1942-2

Page Count: 252

Publisher: AmazonCrossing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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