A wonderfully appealing, literate, compassionate, and funny Jazz Age tale; a home run.

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THE $22.50 MAN

In this comic Depression-era sequel, two newlyweds flee underworld connections to start a new life.

Jean-Yves LeFouet has a way of getting into trouble not of his own making. Having left New York City in 1929 for California to avoid repercussions from his shady boss’s downfall, he must make a return trip. Apparently, the copies of The Tale of Genji, a 1,000-year-old Japanese novel that he was ferrying to actors he thought would be auditioning for a film version, actually contained heroin, and the law got after him. It’s now 1935, and Jean-Yves wants to go straight; he’s newly married to Ariane (part Japanese, part French), his perfect match: “We’re made for each other. We love poetry and film and theater and one another.” When the cops come knocking, the couple (and their cat, Vince) manage to escape to the Big Apple. Ariane finds work in a bookstore while Jean-Yves, who has exceptionally sharp hearing, is offered an informant job with the New York City Police Department for which he’ll drive a taxi, eavesdrop on fares, and collect $22.50 a week. Typically, Jean-Yves—now calling himself John Still—nabs customs scofflaws, but soon he has a bigger target in Jacob Racker, a tannery owner and supplier of shoe leather to the NYPD. When Asian rubber-sole makers threaten to undercut him, Racker is willing to bribe political bigwigs. Meanwhile, John writes a story based on his life, and Ariane translates a Japanese woman’s ancient scroll of poetry (found in a cocktail shaker), then writes and films a play based on it. After losing his $22.50 a week job, John is hired to drive a truck for Racker’s tannery, where he becomes involved in solving a crime—and gets back into trouble.

As the author did in the first book of this trilogy, Shooting Genji(2014), Voorhees conjures up his historical period with slangy high spirits appropriate to the Jazz Age setting. The fast-moving plot packs a lot of action and well-honed characterizations into these pages, as when Otis— Racker’s nephew with a goldbricking, low-level job at the tannery—defends his status: “We’re like chemists.” But the author is a storytelling master who has many registers available to him, from a cat’s point of view (“Hide hide. Under the room-that-goes. I’m big. Don’t come. I’m big”) to the scroll’s heartbroken poet, whose work is extremely touching in Ariane’s translations: “If you pick up a faded bouquet gently, / And try to toss it away, / The petals will fall off / on the floor / at your feet. / It’s the same with you and me.” A subplot involving Racker’s maid and a poker-playing fellow taxi driver hooks up with the main story nicely in ways both amusing and tender. It’s a short book and over all too quickly; fans will be eager for the trilogy’s final volume. Voorhees’ monochrome watercolor illustrations deftly accompany the text, recalling Japanese ink-brush paintings with an extra splash-dab of verve.

A wonderfully appealing, literate, compassionate, and funny Jazz Age tale; a home run.

Pub Date: May 6, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 204

Publisher: FOUND ART PUBLISHING

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

THE RAVAGED

This debut novel from Walking Dead actor Reedus follows three thematically connected yet narratively unrelated people as they journey to find themselves.

Hunter, a heavily tatted Iraq War vet and self-proclaimed gearhead, attacks his boss at the bike shop after catching him kicking a dog. “Hunter was old school,” the narrator says, rough-hewn but with strong moral fiber and a heart of gold. After learning his father died in a “mysterious house fire” in California, Hunter hops on his Buell S1 motorcycle alongside his buddies Nugget and Itch for a cross-country haul to execute the will. Meanwhile, a wealthy 65-year-old executive named Jack is mugged while traveling aimlessly through South America, neither the first nor the last of his hardships. Jack abandoned his cushy, bloodless office lifestyle after his dying mother told him to “run and never look back,” words he continuously labors to unpack. Finally, Anne, an abused teenage girl in Tennessee, steals her father’s savings and .38 revolver and runs away from home, clobbering her brother upside the head with a cast-iron skillet when he tries to stop her. She connects with her friend Trot, and they join a community of train-hoppers. Co-written by Bill, the story reads like a pastiche of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the latter of which is name-dropped as “great” by multiple characters. Though occasionally hitting some beautiful imagery of the American heartland, Reedus falls victim to implausible dialogue—“Fabiola, you are reading me like a stock report,” Jack says—and overcooked language: “flesh the color of a high-dollar medium-roast coffee bean.” Frequently wordy summaries do little to develop the thinly sketched characters; we know nearly as much about them on Page 25 as on Page 250.

A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-09-416680-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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