Warm-hearted yet unsentimental, a smooth weave of marital and neighborhood dynamics.

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THE HEIGHTS

A husband is tempted to cheat, and a happy marriage is threatened in the most successful novel yet from Hedges, best known as the author (and later director) of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1991).

The title refers to Brooklyn’s choicest neighborhood, home to alternating narrators Kate and Tim Welch. Young marrieds with two small sons, they love the kid-friendly Heights but are struggling to stay afloat; Tim’s salary teaching history at a local academy just isn’t enough. They’re both refugees from difficult parents, Tim fleeing a tyrannical basketball coach, Kate a hippie mother all drugs and drama. After nine years, their “great, ordinary love” still glows. There’s nothing ordinary, though, about Anna Brody, the newest young mother on the scene and the story’s catalyst. Anna is beautiful, rich and impulsive. Her husband Philip, a self-effacing financial titan, has just bought her the grandest house in the neighborhood, a virtual palace. Her arrival coincides with changes for Tim and Kate. A former employer of Kate’s has offered her a fabulous six-figure position doling out grant money, and Tim has agreed to take a year off, look after the boys and work on his much-delayed dissertation. Hedges has fun showing Tim’s admission into the tightly knit circle of playground mothers and his growing fascination with Anna, less a femme fatale then a troubled soul battling a promiscuous husband. Spontaneously, she makes Tim a one-time offer: a weekend at a Manhattan hotel. Tim goes to church and prays for signs; God is encouraging. Readers by now are so invested in the Welch marriage that the will-he-or-won’t-he? suspense creates page-turning momentum. A parallel story line involves the reappearance of Kate’s old flame, a very bad, very successful TV actor, and a trip to Disney World. Hedges brings a touch of farce into the many twists before the climax.

Warm-hearted yet unsentimental, a smooth weave of marital and neighborhood dynamics.

Pub Date: March 4, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-525-95113-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2009

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged White mom and her Black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a Black boy hoping to go with a White girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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