Remarkable for its very ambiguities, this stylistically daring novel steers wide of the literature of oppression and uplift,...

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A VISITATION OF SPIRITS

First-novelist Kenan conjures up a modern book of revelations, full of spirits seen and unseen, past and present, who haunt a few young inhabitants of Tims Creek, a black community built among the pine trees and tobacco fields of backwoods North Carolina.

Sixteen-year-old Horace Cross and his cousin, James Malachai Greene, a preacher and high-school principal in his late 30s, feel the burden of their family's history weighing heavily upon them. The Crosses, mostly ministers and teachers ever since emancipation, adhere to conservative standards of behavior derived from their religious orthodoxy. But Horace, in particular, is a child of his time. An excellent student and a voracious reader of everything from Melville to Marvel comics, he turns to the occult as a way of escaping the painful truth about himself. An "apprentice sorcerer" about to become a "true mystic," he taps into the dark side of the world "preached to him from the cradle on"––a realm full of "archangels and prophets and folk rising from the dead." Whether he's in fact possessed by "a ghost of the mind or a spirit of the nether world" ultimately doesn't matter––for what results is a long nightmare of the soul, a jumble of disjointed memories, from his baptism to getting his ear pierced. And underlying all his remembered traumas is the unalterable fact of his homosexuality, an unthinkable abomination among his righteous kin. As modern a religious thinker as James is––well-educated, married to a radical northerner––he dismisses Horace's panic as a phase from which he'll recover. But when Horace's night of manic wanderings ends in tragedy, James begins his own soul-searching: Why did he ever return to Tims Creek? Why does he stay once his young wife dies from cancer? Why do the dynastic hopes and "the will of a few dead folks" exercise such power over this child of the New South? As much as family can engender sorrow and despair, it is also proves here to be a source of faith and joy, emanating from the spirits of community.

Remarkable for its very ambiguities, this stylistically daring novel steers wide of the literature of oppression and uplift, and shares even less with tales of coming-out, in short, an original.

Pub Date: July 1, 1989

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1118-0

Page Count: 257

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1989

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Slow moving and richly layered.

THE SEARCHER

A retired cop takes one last case in this stand-alone novel from the creator of the Dublin Murder Squad.

Originally from North Carolina, Cal Hooper has spent the last 30 years in Chicago. “A small place. A small town in a small country”: That’s what he’s searching for when he moves to the West of Ireland. His daughter is grown, his wife has left him, so Cal is on his own—until a kid named Trey starts hanging around. Trey’s brother is missing. Everyone believes that Brendan has run off just like his father did, but Trey thinks there’s more to the story than just another young man leaving his family behind in search of money and excitement in the city. Trey wants the police detective who just emigrated from America to find out what’s really happened to Brendan. French is deploying a well-worn trope here—in fact, she’s deploying a few. Cal is a new arrival to an insular community, and he’s about to discover that he didn’t leave crime and violence behind when he left the big city. Cal is a complex enough character, though, and it turns out that the mystery he’s trying to solve is less shocking than what he ultimately discovers. French's latest is neither fast-paced nor action-packed, and it has as much to do with Cal’s inner life as it does with finding Brendan. Much of what mystery readers are looking for in terms of action is squeezed into the last third of the novel, and the morally ambiguous ending may be unsatisfying for some. But French’s fans have surely come to expect imperfect allegiance to genre conventions, and the author does, ultimately, deliver plenty of twists, shocking revelations, and truly chilling moments.

Slow moving and richly layered.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-73-522465-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.

LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND

An interrupted family vacation, unexpected visitors, a mysterious blackout—something is happening, and the world may never be the same.

On a reassuringly sunny summer day, Amanda, an account director in advertising; Clay, a college professor; and their children, Archie, 15, and Rose, 13, make their way from Brooklyn to a luxury home (swimming pool! hot tub! marble countertops!) in a remote area of Long Island they’ve rented for a family vacation. Shortly after they arrive, however, the family’s holiday is interrupted by a knock on the door: The house’s owners, a prosperous older Black couple—George Washington and his wife, Ruth—have shown up unannounced because New York City has been plunged into a blackout and their Park Avenue high-rise apartment didn’t feel safe. Soon it becomes clear that the blackout is a symptom (or is it a cause?) of something larger—and nothing is safe. Has there been a nuclear or climate disaster, a war, a terrorist act, a bomb? Alam’s story unfolds like a dystopian fever dream cloaked in the trappings of a dream vacation: Why do hundreds of deer show up in the house’s well-maintained backyard or a flock of bright-pink flamingos frolic in the family pool and then fly away? What is the noise, loud enough to crack glass, that comes, without warning, once and then, later, repeatedly? Is it safer to go back to the city, to civilization, or to remain away, in a world apart? As they search for answers and adjust to what increasingly appears to be a confusing new normal, the two families—one Black, one White; one older, one younger; one rich, one middle-class—are compelled to find community amid calamity, to come together to support each other and survive. As he did in his previous novels, Rich and Pretty (2016) and That Kind of Mother (2018), Alam shows an impressive facility for getting into his characters’ heads and an enviable empathy for their moral shortcomings, emotional limitations, and failures of imagination. The result is a riveting novel that thrums with suspense yet ultimately offers no easy answers—disappointing those who crave them even as it fittingly reflects our time.

Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-266763-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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