A little like Jon Hassler’s engaging Minnesota fiction and Thomas Williams’s New Hampshire–Gothic Whipple’s Castle—and very...

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EMPIRE FALLS

The life of a small southern-central Maine town is memorably laid bare in Russo’s splendid fifth novel—every bit as reader-friendly and satisfying as its predecessors (Straight Man, 1997, etc.).

Not that Russo’s trademark wry humor isn’t everywhere present, especially in protagonist Miles Roby’s relations, friends, neighbors, and antagonists. Miles, generally considered “the nicest, saddest man in all of Empire Falls,” manages the Empire Grill for widowed plutocrat Francine Whiting (who may/may not bequeath it to him). He’s barely scraping by in an economically challenged community that was once the thriving site of the Whitings’ logging and textile mill “empire.” And he’s watching his teenaged daughter Christina (“Tick”) painstakingly mature, while also laboring to keep emotional distance from a host of brilliantly sketched seriocomic characters. These latter include Miles’s intemperate “soon-to-be-ex-wife” Janine and her aging fiancé, the annoyingly hearty “Silver Fox” Walt Comeau; Miles’s old high-school friend and enemy, hard-nosed cop Jimmy Minty; his one-armed brother (and reputed marijuana grower) David; and especially his widowed father Max, a senile delinquent who’s eternally on the make and cadging “loans” (mostly from Miles). Russo’s genius for loosely episodic storytelling hasn’t faded, but here it’s expertly yoked to several smartly paced parallel plots, whose origins and ramifications are spelled out in extended italicized flashbacks (as well as in a moving explanatory epilogue)—and focus in turn on the unhappy marriage and early death of Miles’s beautiful mother Grace, the slow-burning fuse that is Tick’s nerdy classmate John Voss (whose loneliness triggers the story’s heart-tugging climax), and the skeletons carefully hidden in the Whiting mansion’s many closets.

A little like Jon Hassler’s engaging Minnesota fiction and Thomas Williams’s New Hampshire–Gothic Whipple’s Castle—and very much the crowning achievement of Russo’s remarkable career.

Pub Date: May 22, 2001

ISBN: 0-679-43247-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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