Despite its sometimes too-neat storyline, readers may find merit in this novel’s exploration of the challenges of aging...

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The Bennett Women

In this novel set in 2012, a harrowing health scare for a family matriarch spurs emotional crises for her Fortune 500 company CEO daughter and musically talented granddaughter.

Muriel Bennett, a grandmother with a quick wit and a steadfast dedication to her own independence, has lived for decades in her cherished Pacific Northwest lakeside home. One day, her best friend, Catherine, discovers her barely conscious on her kitchen floor. While recovering in the hospital from what’s revealed to be a collapsed lung, Muriel’s condition prompts her successful, no-nonsense daughter Susanne to make the drastic, controversial decision to move Muriel to an assisted living facility. Before that move materializes, Susanne’s cello-playing daughter, Lilia—who’s hurt that she wasn’t called about Muriel’s health turn—intervenes with an alternate plan to keep Muriel at home, near the friends she dearly loves. As tensions come to a head, Muriel’s good friend Benjamin is involved in a fatal accident, which makes the book’s tempo falter. Eventually, the Bennett women’s disagreements uncover old pains surrounding Susanne’s brother’s death in the Vietnam War and a dark secret that’s long weighed on Lilia. In this novel, Carr (The Foundation, 2014, etc.) paints a portrait of three family generations that’s often pleasantly paced. However, it’s sometimes overly reliant on summary, and some plot developments strain believability, such as when Susanne’s Vietnamese translator and guide winds up showing her the very site where her brother was killed. The dialogue tends to favor easy aphorism over specificity (“You get one shot at life, Lilia,” says Muriel. “Please carve out one that brings you joy”), giving the novel the cadence of a well-worn fable, instead of a story about a particular family. Midway through the novel, however, Carr introduces a plotline that offers supporting dramatic tension, involving Lilia’s attraction to Benjamin’s handsome, computer-whiz grandson, Matthew, and their will-they-or-won’t-they dance.

Despite its sometimes too-neat storyline, readers may find merit in this novel’s exploration of the challenges of aging loved ones. 

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-44979-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2015

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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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