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THE LOVE OF IMPOSSIBLE SUMS

A rather strange but skillfully written study of a group of friends doing their best to get by.

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In Cacoyannis’ novel, set in present-day London, a public relations exec struggles to find peace after the death of his beloved wife and finds some solace in his friends.

Just as Ollie Bridge is about to commit suicide by taking an overdose of pills with vodka, his friends cajole him into attending a poetry performance titled “They Them.” There, he meets the poet, a woman named Alex, but it turns out that the meeting is a setup—an attempt by his pals to bring him back from the brink and return him to life, as it were. It appears to work—not only for Ollie, but for Alex, as well. Her husband, Sam, actually did commit suicide, leaving her as bereft as Ollie, whose own spouse, Eden, died of cancer. “They Them” features Alex and a life-size puppet that represents Sam; Alex is a ventriloquist, and as she trades quips onstage with the avatar of her dead husband, a pervasive creepiness takes hold. Claudia Ellis, known to her friends as “Claw,” is a physician who treated both Sam and Eden, who was her true friend, and she has a casual attitude when it comes to prescribing pills. Rounding out the cast is Sigismund, Claw’s first husband, a historian who left her for one of his students, and Patrick, who becomes Claw’s second husband. Readers learn that Patrick and Sigismund once had a fling, as did Claw and Ollie; it’s clear that this is a group of friends with benefits.

Cacoyannis writes very well on a small canvas. His previous works have had elements of satire, though it may be a stretch to see this latest as having such; these characters appear, at least, to be very serious as the author puts them through their paces—perhaps too serious. But maybe that is the point: They’re all navel-gazers, well meaning most of the time, but self-absorbed nonetheless. They demonstrate a panoply of sexual variety, and bed-hopping is a recurring motif, with so-and-so being unfaithful with what’s-his/her-name with abandon. But to offset this, they all seem to be compulsive confessors; in fact, transgression followed by confession is shown to be a social tactic among this group, a strategy for leverage. Still, this is Ollie’s story and, true to the title, readers get such soliloquies as this: “Broken by the addition, I have now become one minus two: a subtraction—in amongst the blackened silhouettes, a hollow displacement of matter.” It’s no wonder his friends thought it prudent to get him a girlfriend. The preceding quote is just the first of many arithmetical maunderings. Still, readers will come to like Ollie and care about the outcome of his new love with Alex, which holds real promise. The story closes with Ollie and Claw in a kind of autumnal mood as old, genuine friends lob insights to one another like players in a slow-motion tennis match.

A rather strange but skillfully written study of a group of friends doing their best to get by.

Pub Date: Feb. 29, 2024

ISBN: 9798873338832

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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  • New York Times Bestseller

THE WOMEN

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

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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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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