A masterful assemblage of tales that illuminate life in a flagging American town.

I'LL BE HERE FOR YOU

DIARY OF A TOWN

In this linked short story collection, the inhabitants of a Pennsylvania steel town grapple with aging and the shifting rhythms of their community.

Ganaego is a typical mill town in Western Pennsylvania, where the steel jobs have disappeared and taken much of the rest of the local economy with them: “The closure of the steel plant had, to be sure, clobbered all of Ganaego—one more casualty in the hollowing out of America’s industrial heartland.” Even so, American lives roll on, much in the way that they always have. Maddy Schoolcraft, a divorced community college administrator and a woman whom nobody takes seriously, is convinced she is responsible for the car accident that killed one of her son’s high school classmates. As she copes with her guilt, she must also assist her aging, philosophical father, who is going blind. The obese and aging Max Fischman operates a jewelry and appliance shop in Ganaego’s failing commercial district. When his window is smashed in the middle of the night and his inventory stolen, the police chastise him for his broken security system, but Max already has an idea who might have committed the crime. Pleasance Stubbs is a schoolteacher in her mid-50s resisting her doctor’s orders to retire or face crippling damage to her hips while dealing with her long-furloughed husband’s insistence that they pay for the suit of a recently deceased millworker. The 12 stories span the period from 1971 to 2015, and characters from one tale will often pop up as minor players in another. As a cycle, they offer a series of windows into the small, domestic lives of the town’s inhabitants as things change—or don’t—in the fortunes of Ganaego.

McKean’s prose is measured yet probing, revealing the hidden theatricality of even the collection’s minor characters. Here, Maddy describes the movements of her father’s eye doctor: “Barking out his conclusions in acronyms to an assistant who typed his comments into a computer, the doctor would strap on a helmet with a light attached—much like, Maddy would think, what a spelunker might don before descending into a cave—and gaze through a scope into his patients’ eyes.” A melancholic specter haunts the collection, and yet the author largely resists the urge to dwell in nostalgia or sentimentality for the town’s bustling past. Instead, a quiet fatalism imbues each of these tales, in which the inevitable march from youth to old age and death is mirrored in the plights of each of his protagonists. The episodes McKean chronicles are mundane, and yet in them, he discovers the perennial American drama of hopefulness giving way slowly—and then all at once—to disappointment. Standout pieces include “Dance of the Little Swans,” about a woman with a failing dance studio; and “Death in the 5 and 10,” about a librarian who learns of the tragic death of a child. But nearly every story will succeed at striking something in readers’ hearts.

A masterful assemblage of tales that illuminate life in a flagging American town.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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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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