Style alone cannot carry these stories.

SUGAR, SMOKE, SONG

A debut collection of linked stories about women trying to escape tricky family relationships only to re-create them in the world.

In Bollywood movies, melodrama can be delicious and fun, but in fiction it's tricky to keep it from sliding into histrionics. That's what happens in many of these stories, in which sisters betray each other, families draw blood, and men behave rakishly. In "The Stars of the Bollywood House," for example, we see Jumi, a Harvard grad, wasting away from a broken heart. This is the third story about her. In the first ("Ode on an Asian Dog"), Jumi dumps Walt, her cloddish college boyfriend, 30 times. In the second ("Swan Lake Tango"), she's graduated and dating Sammy, her tango partner, and talking nonstop about Walt. She cries in front of displays of wedding necklaces, recalls all the terrible things Walt said ("How he's moved on, how he prefers white girls to her, how everyone said he was too good for trash like her"), and refuses her father's love. This goes on for more than 30 pages, and though Jumi's father, who narrates most of the sections, has an endearing voice and his own emotional scars, it's hard not to catch yourself thinking, "Pull yourself together, Jumi!" The star of the book is the Bronx, which Rajbanshi captures in all its rich complexity: its "buoyant crayon streets" with "Pakistani women in salwars pushing strollers...baby-faced Puerto Rican girls laughing in tight jeans and swinging hoop rings...." Rajbanshi writes some beautiful, arresting sentences. "The precious thing about the old," one character observes, "is that their skin feels the way butterflies look." But because of the overly dramatic plots and underdeveloped characters, it's hard for her poetic sensibility to shine.

Style alone cannot carry these stories.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59709-891-5

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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