Empathetic stories that sometimes lack depth, despite intriguing experiments with form.

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MASQUERADE BALL

In this debut short story collection, Maryland-based journalist Rouleau examines the personal and familial struggles of characters undergoing changes in their lives.

The opening story, “SailorGrl724,” recounts a first date between 28-year-old Douglas Faraday and Leah, 25, whom he first meets on an online dating site. Douglas, like many of the male characters in this collection, is lonely and searching for meaningful connection. He’s a “frequent late-night caller to several emotional crisis hotlines” and appropriately nervous about his date. Although the story is simple and circumspect, it effectively sets up the thematic concerns of the rest of the stories, whose characters are often bereft (such as the recent divorcé of “The Duel of the Depressed”), facing difficult choices (such as a woman deciding whether to terminate her pregnancy in “My Name is Karen”), or in other states of transition, including coming out as gay. For the most part, the stories are rooted in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, and the author describes these settings with a studied familiarity. The titular character in “My Name is Karen,” for instance, waitresses at a restaurant in Bethesda, where she knows how to get good tips from lonely patrons. Not every story dwells on malaise and depression, however. In “Caroline and Sydney’s Wedding,” a tale of adolescent friendship heartwarmingly blossoms into a romance. This story is uniquely structured around a series of wedding toasts, and elsewhere, Rouleau further experiments with odd narrative structures that allow him to navigate a wide range of characters. In “A Perfect Catch,” the author even goes into the past to examine the origins of deception and grift in a historical tale set in small-town Ohio. That said, despite the varied cast and sometimes-sensational subject matter (including alien abduction and exorcism), this compilation never feels very weighty.

Empathetic stories that sometimes lack depth, despite intriguing experiments with form.

Pub Date: May 14, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 268

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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