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50 STATES

A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES

A cleverly conceived, character-driven, if overstuffed, anthology sure to delight and enchant.

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A debut collection of brief stories reflects on the human condition.

Beginning as a campaign to write one tale a week for 50 weeks, Becker’s book spans many literary genres, moods, and situations, all set in a succession of American states. While many stories create mere cursory circumstances sketched over an economy of pages as the subtitle suggests, others are somewhat lengthier, like the opener, “Broken People,” starring an Idaho farmer and father of four. The man aches for absolution years after a tragedy. The irony and sometimes the cruelty of humankind ground much of this collection, making it both thoughtful and relatable. The ways furniture connects to a family unit constitute the Connecticut-set tale “The Lake House”; next-door strangers finally find common ground in “Good Neighbors” just as one family moves away; and ruthless looters take advantage of Oregon’s wildfire season in “Where There’s Smoke.” The volume’s standout quality lies in its variety. Pain and passion intermingle with history and culture (New Orleans Voodoo, Alaska, the circus) while a mixture of spontaneous adventures and deadly consequences saturates many stories, like “Dead Ends,” in which a couple on a Utah desert highway recklessly take a detour. They end up embroiled in a nightmarish government biohazard contamination setting. The Halloween yarn “Shine on You Crazy Diamonds” features a haunted house bedeviling a group of Detroit friends who gathered there as kids. As impressive as some of the longer tales are, the shorter entries can pack the same punch, as in the single-page drama “The Blue Door.” Here, a California woman who abandons her marriage still feels a scintillating pinch of sorrow, freedom, and terror at relinquishing her husband’s “safety net that would never catch her again.” As an anthology, Becker’s book is ultimately satisfying, if uneven in spots. Some stories lack enough narrative definition or distinguishing characteristics to link them to their locations. Still, the varying states of the characters’ minds form a kaleidoscopic array of reflections, regrets, accomplishments, and the stress of both good and bad relationships. Whether melancholy or blissful, each of Becker’s tales offers an engaging coda and even some food for thought for readers who enjoy vivid short stories grounded in humanity.

A cleverly conceived, character-driven, if overstuffed, anthology sure to delight and enchant.

Pub Date: July 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-00-681115-9

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Blurb

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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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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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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