The understatement of the narrative makes the climax all the more devastating.

SMILE

A return to form for the Dublin novelist, who illuminates the troubled psyche of a writer who can’t quite bring himself to write.

After hitting his peak renown a couple of decades ago (Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the Booker Prize in 1993), Doyle has sometimes seemed to be drifting on autopilot. Not here, where the first-person narrative is fresh and bracing from Page 1. Victor has come to a pub looking for a place to become a regular after his recent split from his wife, a TV celebrity with a weekly show. In the pub, he encounters a man who says he remembers him from school and seems to know more about him than anyone besides Victor himself should. As Victor returns to his single-man’s flat, and to the writing that haunts him because he can never accomplish much, he muses on the life that has brought him here. He remembers the Christian Brothers, his teachers, one of whom molested him at least once. He remembers his days as a rock critic and then his move into political journalism, which resulted in his chance meeting with the beautiful, irresistible Rachel. She would become Ireland’s television sweetheart, beloved by all, but for some reason she loved only Victor. The reader can’t figure out why. Victor can’t figure out why. The friends he makes in the pub can’t figure out why. “What did she see in you?” one asks. Their split is also something of a mystery. Meanwhile, Victor keeps running into that same guy in the pub, the stranger who has now become his best friend. “He’d know—he knew—more than I’d want known,” Victor fears, more than he’d want to tell the others in the pub or even the reader. The writing that obsesses him is “about the rot that is at the heart of Ireland,” that is within Victor himself, a corrosion that began in his school days. It isn’t until the final pages that the reader understands just what Doyle has done, and it might take a rereading to appreciate just how well he has done it.

The understatement of the narrative makes the climax all the more devastating.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2444-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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THE GREAT ALONE

In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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