A smartly turned and admirably consistent collection about love and its many discontents.

HOMESICK FOR ANOTHER WORLD

Dysfunctional relationships of many stripes—crumbling marriages, bad dates, slacker partners—drive this dark and quirky clutch of stories.

Moshfegh’s most remarkable talent early in her career is to turn distasteful domestic situations into magnetic storytelling: her superb debut novel, Eileen (2015), is a Highsmith-ian tale of alcoholism, abuse, and unrequited love, and though the 14 stories in this collection don’t let much more sunlight in, their concision and gallows humor do give them a lift. In “The Beach Boy,” a longtime married couple returns from a vacation, and when the wife suddenly dies, her undeveloped vacation photos force the husband to reassess his understanding of her (did she really hook up with a prostitute?) and himself. In “A Dark and Winding Road,” a well-off man runs into his reprobate brother’s meth-smoking girlfriend, a meeting that proves (in quintessentially Moshfegh-ian phrasing) “disgusting—just as I’d always hoped it to be.” Youngsters are no more or less foolish, like the aspiring actor in “Nothing Ever Happens Here” who falls for his aging landlord, the broke Brooklyn hipster in “Dancing in the Moonlight” who schemes to seduce a high-end furniture designer, or the narrator of “The Weirdos” who can’t quite extract herself from her boorish boyfriend. For all these foibles, though, Moshfegh never approaches her characters from a position of cruelty, with an intention to mock them; they are for the most part ordinary people undone by their desires, just in more peculiar and Day-Glo fashion than everyday life. Moshfegh's prose is usually plainly realist, but “Mr. Wu,” about a man who devises a complex scheme to seduce a woman running a Chinese internet cafe, is a piercing fable of unrequited love. “Life can be strange sometimes, and knowing it can be doesn’t seem to make it any less so,” one character says, and Moshfegh has proven herself more willing than her contemporaries to dive into the muck of that strangeness.

A smartly turned and admirably consistent collection about love and its many discontents.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56288-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and...

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THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

What if the metaphorical Underground Railroad had been an actual…underground railroad, complete with steam locomotive pulling a “dilapidated box car” along a subterranean nexus of steel tracks?

For roughly its first 60 pages, this novel behaves like a prelude to a slave narrative which is, at once, more jolting and sepulchral than the classic firsthand accounts of William Wells Brown and Solomon Northup. Its protagonist, Cora, is among several African-American men and women enslaved on a Georgia plantation and facing a spectrum of savage indignities to their bodies and souls. A way out materializes in the form of an educated slave named Caesar, who tells her about an underground railroad that can deliver her and others northward to freedom. So far, so familiar. But Whitehead, whose eclectic body of work encompasses novels (Zone One, 2011, etc.) playing fast and loose with “real life,” both past and present, fires his most daring change-up yet by giving the underground railroad physical form. This train conveys Cora, Caesar, and other escapees first to a South Carolina also historically unrecognizable with its skyscrapers and its seemingly, if microscopically, more liberal attitude toward black people. Compared with Georgia, though, the place seems so much easier that Cora and Caesar are tempted to remain, until more sinister plans for the ex-slaves’ destiny reveal themselves. So it’s back on the train and on to several more stops: in North Carolina, where they’ve not only abolished slavery, but are intent on abolishing black people, too; through a barren, more forbidding Tennessee; on to a (seemingly) more hospitable Indiana, and restlessly onward. With each stop, a slave catcher named Ridgeway, dispensing long-winded rationales for his wicked calling, doggedly pursues Cora and her diminishing company of refugees. And with every change of venue, Cora discovers anew that “freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, the empty meadow, you see its true limits.” Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller’s deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass’ grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft’s rococo fantasies…and that’s when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is.

Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-53703-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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