With X-ray-vision, empathy, and vivacity under fire, DeWoskin once again finds literary gold in painful circumstances.

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BANSHEE

A breast cancer diagnosis kicks off a feral midlife crisis for a mild-mannered poetry professor.

Samantha Baxter, 42, has a great husband and daughter in college, a successfully published volume of poetry, a good job teaching in a college town. She also has breast cancer and is scheduled for a double mastectomy in three weeks. Almost immediately, she finds herself in a bathtub caressing the soapy hip of one of her students, a redhead named Leah, a girl about her daughter’s age. “My life dissolved like an old-fashioned slide show catching fire,” she explains. “I just got sick and wanted to burn the world down.” For the nearly 300 pages of DeWoskin’s (Someday We Will Fly, 2019, etc.) impassioned rant of a novel, the inside of Samantha’s head rages like an inferno. After the stress of conducting the poetry workshop in which her new lover is a student, she wants “to hide inside Elizabeth Bishop’s letters, to stop my mind from thinking its own language and instead live in hers,” but instead she pitches herself into the affair with willfully self-destructive and self-indulgent intensity. Her kind husband, her beloved daughter, and her mother, a breast cancer survivor, watch helplessly from the sidelines. “If anyone thinks her tenancy in the land of the sane and healthy was reliable, she should probably think again, because our bodies and minds have a million shards and parts, so many in contradiction with each other that we cannot count on ourselves not to revolt against ourselves.” The narration of this book is so engaging and powerful and the confusion and despair Samantha experiences so visceral and terrifying, reading it feels like being dragged along by the hand by one’s braver best friend through a scary fun house. Surely she can get us out of here, you think, but you can’t be sure.

With X-ray-vision, empathy, and vivacity under fire, DeWoskin once again finds literary gold in painful circumstances.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-94834-010-6

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Dottir Press

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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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