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REIMAGINING BEN

A humorous and entertaining character study of two brothers besieged by the preposterous.

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In this lightly absurdist comedy, fraternal twin brothers find their lives upended by a narcissistic writer and exacerbated by their unresolved rivalry.

Jay and George Raven are a curious and contentious pair of siblings living in North London. The foulmouthed George is a celebrity biographer who flamboyantly reinvents his subjects’ lives for his readers. All he says and does is equal parts clever and crushing, and he rarely lets up on his brother for being born mere minutes before he was. In contrast, Jay is a librarian and serial apologizer, envious of George’s good looks and his confidence as a gay man. These are the reasons he’s never come out himself, and in fact Jay denies he’s gay despite his brother’s insistence that he is. Still, Jay is excited about “the event,” a meet-up with a man, supposedly a stranger, whom he will join naked in bed for just a conversation, an odd yet enticing interview George has set up. But the night before the event, George’s beautiful friend Bendy Andy, who spends time dressing as a stunning Marilyn Monroe with a Meryl Streep nose, introduces the siblings to a popular writer named Ben Eversham. Ben claims to be a fan of George’s but greets him with contempt, exposing himself as a compulsive liar. Ben quickly entangles Jay in a night of coincidences and mysteries involving the proprietors of a local cafe, escorts, organized crime, and two name-dropping police officers. The event is equally surprising for Jay, as the man in the bed turns out to be his brother’s best friend, Tom, “George’s only love.” But Tom is also a lost love of Jay’s—a situation George paradoxically orchestrates but also seethes with contempt over. Early on, George notes that “nonsense is the meaning of life,” a welcoming nod to the good time that awaits readers.

Cacoyannis’ novel recalls Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in that beyond one uproarious moment when Jay and Andy have to stop George from hanging Ben with a makeshift noose, much of the action takes place offstage. The characters’ interpersonal conflicts and the fallout of Ben’s unscrupulous conduct are dealt with in the book’s consuming, sometimes volatile dialogue. But it is not just what the characters say that charms in each scene. Even minor acts, such as ordering drinks at a restaurant, reveal much about the players through their tics, pauses, and silences with an impressive thrift. The story employs a subtle absurdism in its comedy, crafting a world that could almost be real (most of these characters are writers, models, and artists, after all) save for the overwhelming volume of fun coincidences that even later disclosures cannot completely explain. One revelation encompasses a drunken automobile accident, a rare tonal misstep that goes largely unresolved. The tragedy seems far too grave because it directly involves George as opposed to the often comedic, criminal debauchery of Ben. Yet in a book of big, farcically dramatic moments, such as the fighting over the noose, Ben’s projectile vomiting, and Jay’s fainting from the heat like a Victorian protagonist, this level of seriousness is largely left by the wayside for more amusing fumblings by the brothers and their lovers.

A humorous and entertaining character study of two brothers besieged by the preposterous.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2023

ISBN: 9798373946506

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2023

THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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  • New York Times Bestseller

IT STARTS WITH US

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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