A moving, densely detailed portrait of people without hope.

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ON THE EDGE

One of Spain’s leading novelists, who died in August 2015, tackles the malaise that has swept his country in the wake of the Great Recession.

Avenida de La Marina is on the edge of the sea in a town on the edge of Spain, a nation on the edge of Europe. Its people are on the edge, too, of desperation and poverty. Ahmed and Rachid, the first characters we meet, have been on that edge since Esteban closed his carpentry shop for lack of business. Ahmed, who makes a little money as a busboy, has been listening to fundamentalists who are convinced that the Spanish are out for Muslim blood: “Abdeljaq had celebrated the bombings at Atocha station. He said he could see the face of Allah more clearly in the sky.” Ahmed is just as resentful of rich Muslims as he is of the Europeans all around him—indeed, everyone in this book is resentful of anyone who has it better than they do. Meanwhile, the little town also swarms with Latin Americans, searching as well for better lives and certainly not finding them. There’s some small common cause, but it’s tentative and tenuous: “Because it’s on my way,” says one, “I usually buy coriander in that Arab greengrocer’s next to the halal butcher. I would never buy meat from that butcher, of course.” Esteban seethes with resentment of the newcomers, as do other españoles who tolerated them when things were good. Says one, queuing up for the dole, “just take a look at them—it’s frightening. Gypsies, Romanians, Colombians, Italian mafia, Russians. Riffraff the lot of them.” Prostitution, drug addiction, alcoholism: not much happens in Chirbes’ pages, which are long instead on atmospherics, vitriol, and an attention to journalistic detail worthy of Orwell. There’s a Spoon-River-with-flamenco quality to the proceedings as characters well up to talk, mostly indignantly and unhappily, mostly in monologue; from time to time their stories intersect, but more often they simply talk past one another.

A moving, densely detailed portrait of people without hope.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2284-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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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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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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