Material that still leaves you wishing Theroux would chuck the imagineering and get his cantankerous self back on the road.

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THE STRANGER AT THE PALAZZO D’ORO

AND OTHER STORIES

From Theroux the wanderer, the story of a wandering American who becomes a German aristocrat’s concubine, and other, lesser, tales.

When not spitting out his venom at the real world that he loves to traverse, Theroux (Hotel Honolulu, 2001) likes to dash off fiction, which, although well-informed by his travels, rarely lives up to the nonfiction. During his last travelogue (Dark Star Safari, 2003), he occasionally mentioned that he was penning an erotic story, which one assumes to be the centerpiece of this newest collection. It’s a roughly hundred-page novella that skips by like a thirty-pager and concerns a young American idling about a Sicilian town in 1962. He becomes entranced by a wealthy couple staying at the luxurious Palazzo D’Oro and makes the acquaintance of the man, Haroun, a Chaldean from Baghdad, who is not the golden-haired woman’s spouse, but doctor. Soon Haroun has the American ensconced in a room at the Palazzo and is trying to entice him into becoming the lover of the woman—an older German baroness of steely, arrogant beauty. The relationship, once begun, is more like a battle than an affair, with the American serving to satisfy the baroness’s insatiable masochism in the bedroom even as she ridicules him outside it: “She intended to enrage me so that later, in her room, I would dominate her and treat [her] as my slave.” The story has a sun-baked, self-consciously decadent, Barry Unsworth feel that makes it enjoyable in a sleazy way. Of much less effect are the four Boston-set tales that follow, well-crafted glimpses of angst-fraught adolescence, but nothing especially memorable. Meanwhile, Theroux can’t stay away from travel or sex for long, and in “An African Story,” an older, white South African farmer gets involved with a black woman and, sure enough, discovers her to need punishment: “sex is about power.”

Material that still leaves you wishing Theroux would chuck the imagineering and get his cantankerous self back on the road.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2004

ISBN: 0-618-26515-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous White policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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