Despite some lovely prose, Friedman’s dystopia-lite comes across as less shocking than shallow.

HERE LIES

A first novel about the travails of a young Louisiana woman mourning her mother’s death in the 2040s, when human burial has become illegal.

The near future Friedman creates is less extreme than ones found in other recent cautionary dystopias. Instead, what may scare readers is how normal narrator Alma’s world seems in light of the U.S.'s current problems. In fact, 22-year-old Alma's lifestyle and entertainment references—the same fast food, the same golden oldies considered oldies today—make the fabric of daily life in the present and future seem pretty much the same. One change mentioned more than once is that Louisiana’s football teams have stopped playing. And of course there are the continuing ravages of climate change—trees lost to storms, hoarding due to empty store shelves. Parts of Louisiana are uninhabitable. Alma’s major concern, however, is that the increasingly authoritarian government—its political affiliation left ambiguous—has taken control of graveyard land; laws now require the dead to be cremated, their ashes stored by the state, with few exceptions. Alma takes up the cause of dead people’s rights and freedom of burial choice. Her mother, who died a year earlier, was cremated although she’d wanted a burial. After Alma’s application for a dispensation to keep the urn of her mother’s ashes is turned down, she becomes involved with a secret idealistic group of Catholic burial rights activists. She also takes in homeless, pregnant 19-year-old Bordelon, who is mourning the death of the grandmother who raised her. Both Bordelon and Alma had lousy boyfriends and fathers who abandoned them; their activist friend Josephine’s husband abused her. More problematic than the heavy-handed victimhood is the narrowness of Alma’s vision, which seems unconcerned with major issues like racism or deaths caused by natural disasters and starvation. But the temptation to consider this a satirical fable is undercut by the earnest tone.

Despite some lovely prose, Friedman’s dystopia-lite comes across as less shocking than shallow.

Pub Date: March 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2939-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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