By no means a negligible book, but something of a disappointment coming from the gifted Grushin.

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THE LINE

The line of the title serves as bold metaphor in this earnest successor to The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2006).

It’s a literal waiting line that forms outside a kiosk which, rumor has it, offers whatever the hopeful patrons who enter it each day, enduring numerous confusions and delays, most desire. Some declare that there are tickets on sale there, to a forthcoming concert at which émigré composer Igor Selinsky (a fictional surrogate for 20th-century master Stravinsky) will conduct a performance of his final symphony. This possibility excites the interest of Anna, a compassionate schoolteacher who wants the ticket for her frail, aged mother, a one-time famous ballerina; Anna’s husband Sergei, a devoted musician unhappily underemployed as a tuba player in a nondescript marching band; and their teenaged son Alexander, a budding pragmatist who plots ways of escaping from his family’s suffocating environment—a city much like Moscow, nearly 40 years after “the Change” (known historically as the Thaw) that promised Russian citizens increased freedom and opportunity. The combination of these elements produces a frustrating mixture: excessive recourse to scenes in which characters keep meeting in line, forming both fruitful and damaging new relationships, chagrined to realize they’re animals subjected to herding and confinement. This is balanced and ameliorated by sharp characterizations of the four principal characters, trenchant analysis of the extremes of behavior to which they’re driven, and powerful evocations of an imprisoning atmosphere that stifles all forms of creativity and self-expression. Virtually every time Grushin’s characters leave the line, connecting with their memories, their ambitions or their relationships with others, the novel quickens to life. Unfortunately, the image of the line usurps the reader’s concentration, forcing the author to keep re-establishing these people’s claims on our attention.

By no means a negligible book, but something of a disappointment coming from the gifted Grushin.

Pub Date: April 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-399-15616-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Marian Wood/Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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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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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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