Reminiscent at points of The Ginger Man but in the end a bright, original yarn with a surprising twist.

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FRENCH EXIT

“They’re not normal people”: an entertaining romp among the disaffected bourgeoisie.

Early in the pages of deWitt’s (Undermajordomo Minor, 2015, etc.) latest, the shiftless son of Frances Price—a meaningful name, that—wanders into the family's Manhattan kitchen to find his mother wielding a “long, gleaming knife.” Having never seen her cook, Malcolm is puzzled. No, she’s not cooking, says Maman: “I only like the sound it makes.” Frances and Malcolm are sensual creatures, she a “moneyed, striking woman of sixty-five years,” he “broody and unkempt.” Now, suddenly broke, Frances decides to sell what she can and bolt to Paris, Malcolm in tow. Frances is a whirlwind, not a person to observe the rules: When the real estate agent says his fee will be 30 percent, nonnegotiable, she negotiates: “If you name another figure that is not fifteen percent, I will go to fourteen percent…and on down the line until your payment, and your sole function in regard to my own life, disappears altogether.” Their fate in Paris and en route is to meet unlikely people, like one Boris Maurus, whose moniker prompts Malcolm to remark, with unusual insight, “We both have horror movie names,” and the footloose Mme Reynard, who disappoints Frances by being rather affable and unstylish rather than offering a foil for “a night of implied insults and needling insinuations.” Sometimes it seems like the most grown-up character in the novel is the cat, Small Frank, and in any event Paris is not always a picnic, as when Malcolm and Frances observe a knot of cops beating up a demonstration of étrangers: “They moved through the pack knocking down the immigrants one after the other; a tap on the skull and on to the next.” Such sharply observed moments give deWitt’s well-written novel more depth than the usual comedy of manners—a depth reinforced by the exit that closes the tale, sharp object and all.

Reminiscent at points of The Ginger Man but in the end a bright, original yarn with a surprising twist.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-284692-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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