It’s the rightness of Murphy’s language that thrills us into temporary submission, but as the novel progresses, its odd...

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THE RIVER AND ENOCH O'REILLY

An Irish river floods; nine people drown, presumed suicides. Folklore and radio transmissions provide part of the answer in this work of magic realism, the Irish journalist’s second novel (John the Revelator, 2009).

On the first of November 1984, the torrential rains begin, causing the river Rua to overflow its banks in the town of Murn. Nine bodies will be retrieved, six of them young adults. The flood begins the novel and is reprised toward the end, so Murphy has begun with the climax—a daring move. The rest of the novel sketches the protagonist, Enoch O’Reilly, and offers haphazard vignettes of the dead. (In the inevitable comparison, Jeffrey Eugenides’ tightly focused The Virgin Suicides fares better.) Enoch grew up in a small town south of Murn. Mother Kathleen was a devout Catholic; father Frank owned an electrical business and was a published authority on sound waves. This tight-lipped man had built his own machine. The pivotal moment of Enoch’s life came when the 12-year-old snuck into his dad’s workshop and heard a thundering preacher’s voice through the headphones. That same night, his idol, Elvis, the King, exhorted him to emulate the preacher, which he did after a fashion, espousing the Word (but not God) and years later hosting a parodic Revival Hour on local radio. The trouble with this Elvis freak is that he has no interior. He is less complex than Frank, who gathered data on historical flood patterns through his machine and concluded the river was a force to cull the population. Certainly the Rua Nine were mentally troubled or miscreants. One was an arsonist; another, a farmer, shot all his cattle. As a battlefield casualty in Korea, Frank had a vision: “chains of men descending into a river.” And after Enoch’s incursion, he suffered a breakdown, babbling in “riverish.”

It’s the rightness of Murphy’s language that thrills us into temporary submission, but as the novel progresses, its odd structure becomes increasingly problematic.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-90477-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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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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Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

DEAR EDWARD

A 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash—a study in before and after.

Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s (A Good Hard Look, 2011, etc.) novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.

Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5478-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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