Olafsson’s emotionally chilly tale raises interesting questions about the capacity and limits of science and about how hard...

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ONE STATION AWAY

In Olafsson’s fifth novel (Restoration, 2012, etc.), set in a rarified world of high-achieving intellectuals and artists, a neuroscientist attempts to unravel mysteries in his personal history as he recovers from a tragedy.

Magnus grew up in England but now lives in Manhattan and commutes to a hospital in Cold Harbor, Connecticut, where he works on a project studying human consciousness in seemingly comatose patients. As the novel opens, he describes being put into an artificial state of physical paralysis for two hours just to experience it. Unable to move or communicate, he hears the sea outside his open window for the first time since his lover, Malena, visited him at the hospital the previous fall, a moment when he “should have known from her voice that something was wrong.” Malena, an Argentinean who taught modern dance at Julliard, has since died under cloudy circumstances that Magnus spends the rest of the novel trying to fathom. In elliptical snatches he recalls their intense affair, which he repeatedly claims was close to idyllic. While still mourning Malena, Magnus is thrust back into interaction with his parents, Vincent and Margaret, whom he reluctantly agrees to visit at their home in Hertfordshire for his mother’s 70th birthday. Both Vincent and Margaret have always believed that emotionally fragile Margaret is a musical genius whose virtuosity on the piano has been cruelly ignored. Vincent comes across as a pathetic charlatan who pours cheap bubbly into expensive champagne bottles. Magnus has always felt that Margaret, who showed him little maternal affection when he was a child, blamed him for her lack of success. When Margaret becomes something of a media sensation after Vincent releases her new recordings, Magnus begins to questions his perspective on his childhood. Meanwhile he begins to work with a new patient, a woman who appears to be comatose but may understand more than she lets on.

Olafsson’s emotionally chilly tale raises interesting questions about the capacity and limits of science and about how hard it is to know another person, but for all its braininess the novel never develops a beating heart.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-267748-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous White policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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