A melancholy, earnest study of friendship.

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THE WINTER IN ANNA

A longtime journalist looks back solemnly at his first job and one cryptic woman’s influence on him.

Ricky, the narrator of Karaim’s second novel (If Men Were Angels, 1999), opens this story grimly: he’s learned that Anna, a former co-worker, has killed herself by drinking bleach in a motel room. Flash back to young Ricky, fresh out of college and quickly elevated to editor-in-chief of a small-town weekly newspaper in central North Dakota. The job itself isn’t especially demanding—he and his small staff cover fires, floods, and festivals, with the occasional dash of mild civic scandal. Anna is the real focus of his investigative skills, a puzzle he can’t solve but keeps coming back to: a single mother of two, she delivers the occasional tart line to blunt the young man’s arrogance while keeping her past carefully concealed. (Why did she leave her husband? What’s with the scars on her wrists?) The two engage in something of a flirtation, but Karaim is careful not to frame this as a love story or even a woman-who-got-away story. Anna is a study in depression and grief, and as the story moves along, the reasons for those dark emotions become starker and deeper. Anna’s storm clouds, combined with Karaim’s elegant depictions of the wide, empty landscapes on the edge of the Badlands (“the spot in our national geography where the Midwest becomes the West” ), give the novel an overall bittersweet feel—he’s elegiac about youth and simpler times for newspapers. But the novel's structure is overly manicured in ways that make its emotional effects seem forced, from the carefully timed reveals of Anna’s past to the dry subplots about locals and friends’ relationships. Anna’s sadness is sympathetically but repetitively handled, leading to a fate whose end we already learned on Page 1.

A melancholy, earnest study of friendship.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-60850-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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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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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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