While the shortest pieces in the book can be frustratingly oblique, when Bullwinkel gives herself a larger canvas to dive...

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BELLY UP

Characters obsess over physical and emotional metamorphoses in this debut collection.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses lurks in the DNA of these 17 stories, as characters reckon with the changing forms of the bodies (and minds) they are in. Two teen girls fantasize about turning into plants, using the story of Apollo and Daphne as their model, after they are sexually harassed (“Arms Overhead”). Bullwinkel also writes movingly of the late middle-aged and the elderly grappling with the transformations of aging, as in “Mouth Full of Fish,” about two ill patients going for a night swim. But if Ovid is here, so too is the deep surrealism of Max Ernst. Bullwinkel has a gift for the eye-popping opening line: “People kept dying and I was made to sleep in their beds” begins “Burn,” a tale about a middle-age man helping widows through their grief in an unorthodox manner. “Nave,” a flash piece about the devouring impulses of religion, starts, “My father told me that our church had a belly.” Sometimes the surprise is less in the opening than in the strange turns the tales take once they launch; in one of the collection’s standouts, “Décor,” a young woman working in a luxury furniture showroom has her ennui punctured by a communication from a prisoner with a flair for home design. In “Clamor,” a medium holding a group session must navigate the conflicting desires of her clients, both dead and living. Weirdness is almost de rigeur in short fiction these days, but Bullwinkel also shows impressive range and deep emotional intelligence.

While the shortest pieces in the book can be frustratingly oblique, when Bullwinkel gives herself a larger canvas to dive into the grief and panic of characters caught between one thing and another, her stories approach brilliance.

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9985184-3-5

Page Count: 236

Publisher: A Strange Object

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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