A touch of humor, even a little more dialogue, might have tempered the thematic self-importance.

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ALL THE LAND TO HOLD US

Texas oil, contaminated water, the scorching sun over an arid landscape, a runaway elephant and a humungous catfish dwarf the human characters in this fever dream of an environmentalist novel.

Like a more modern McTeague or a Cormac McCarthy parody, the latest from Bass (The Lives of Rocks, 2006, etc.) falls short of its epic ambitions. It begins in Midland with the relationship of unlikely soul mates: Richard, a geologist compromised by his association with the oil industry, and Clarissa, who finds and sells fossils to subsidize her plan to escape the region. Their relationship may be as doomed as their love is passionate, but “their hands clasped together, it would seem to Clarissa that she and Richard were emotionally in some similar place and time, and that for the time being that might even be how they preferred it—neither east nor west, nor past nor future.” In contrast to the novel’s prim evocation of “the interior acts of love,” it reserves greater rapture for the life force (in the face of mortality) reflected in the landscape, “the thunderous force that drove the world, exceeding even the powers of gravity; as if longing were destiny, as if longing were sacred and sacrament, as if longing were holy, as if longing were as elemental a force of the world as magma or stone, or water or fire or spirit....” And so on. The novel expands to encompass Mexico as well as Texas and to include a woman transformed by an attempt to rescue a circus elephant, a young girl of unknown parents who is perceptive beyond her years, a Mormon schoolteacher, some evil oilmen and a variety of arts-and-crafts folk. It also includes cameos by the high school football team, which seems to have stumbled over from Friday Night Lights and serves as sort of a mute Greek chorus: “All of the players’ faces would be limned with saintly agony, each of them pushing himself farther than ever before, entering each morning into a new country....”

A touch of humor, even a little more dialogue, might have tempered the thematic self-importance.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-68712-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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