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AMERICAN FAUST

An inventive but uneven tale about what people will do to get what they want.

In this debut literary novel, three people from different decades are ensnared in one diabolical plot.

Italy, 1917. Lawrence “Worthy” Worthington, a young, hedonistic soldier fighting in World War I, meets a German field marshal named Baron Memphis von Topheles. The baron grants Worthy eternal life, and all the soldier has to do in exchange is seduce young mothers and deliver them to Memphis. New York City, 1969. Divorced mother of two Sharon Peters finds herself in a hell-themed club in the depths of Greenwich Village. There, she meets the “Master Magician,” Memphis Topheles, who offers her a deal: He will make her young forever as long as she is willing to abandon her children and lure men into his service. California, 2000. James Harris is a young novelist-turned-entrepreneur who dreams of bringing the world together through technology. The only problem is he’s in desperate need of capital. At an investor event at the famous Hearst Castle, he meets Memphis Topheles, known as the Chairman, a venture capitalist wealthy enough to bankroll James’ utopian project. In exchange, he just needs James to travel to the old Revson property in Connecticut—a place James knows for a fact burned down years ago—and convince the woman who lives there to leave her husband. “If you can handle what you are about to step into,” the Chairman tells him, “you will have proven you are capable of surviving anything the business world might throw at you.” James agrees and travels to the old Revson place, though he isn’t sure what he will find there. He’s struck by a car in the property’s driveway, and when he comes to, his body is fine but his memory is damaged. The man and the woman are there, just as the Chairman warned him. But James’ mission proves much more difficult than he could ever have imagined—particularly since the house he’s entered seems to exist outside of time.

Brown’s prose is urgent and economical, as here where James begins to have some suspicions about just what’s going on at the Revson house: “Sharon darted like a deer to get inside, but he got to the door first and blocked her. ‘Tell me who you are, tell me who you are really,’ he said. ‘Let go of me!’ she shouted. ‘Out of my way!’ She thrust her elbow in his side and he buckled, grabbing her down. She fell on top and cried in pain.” The story’s structure is complex and full of surprises. The pleasure of the book is in figuring out how the various pieces of the tale fit together. It’s clear that the author has high literary ambitions—an early scene takes place at a party in Henry Miller’s Big Sur cabin, and classic American writers are referenced throughout—but unfortunately, his characters are thin. Memphis is a cartoon villain, and not in a fun way. In the rare scene where James produces an emotional reaction in readers, it’s a mildly negative one. It’s a shame there isn’t more here for the audience to latch on to, given the puzzlelike imagination that Brown displays.

An inventive but uneven tale about what people will do to get what they want.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 405

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2022

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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