A colorful man nears his demise with a bit o’ philosophizing and a song.

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THOMAS MURPHY

An elderly poet delivers a chatty, comic monologue on sex, death, life, and getting the girl.

Rosenblatt—admired for his essays for Time and PBS Frontline and for his more recent memoirs such as Making Toast (2010)—likes an occasional dip into fiction. His first venture, Lapham Rising (2006), centered on a half-mad misanthrope fighting McMansions on Long Island. His new book features a cranky/lovable widower awaiting the verdict of dementia tests. Like Tom Sawyer imagining his own funeral, Thomas Murphy envisions his own obit mentioning “his heavenly baritone voice and sea-blue eyes” and pegging him as “the celebrated poet, genius, cardsharp, pop singer, piano bar player, raconteur, bon vivant, and all-around good guy.” The novel is all character, teetering on the verge of caricature—the Irish-born Murph drinks and sings loudly, usually “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” His New York liberal bona fides are so airtight that he teaches creative writing to the homeless. He sat down, he tells us, for civil rights at a Woolworth’s in the 1960s. Rosenblatt spools out this tale without chapters, just fragments that mimic a skittering mind. (The first and last sentences are “Have I told you about this?”) No one else speaks, although the pages are thick with quotations. A plot is barely there,and wheezes with the appearance of a comely young blind woman who might take the old dude to bed—shades of the Sidney Poitier–inflected moralism of “A Patch of Blue.” The book is better rattling around in the mind of the old fellow, who conjures a vivid childhood on an island in the Irish Sea and writes drafts here of a couple of decent poems. All the while, readers are subjected to such pointedly “lovable” nonsense as “you never crash if you go full tilt” and a bushel full of puns. Here is Murph, going over his prize acceptance speech in the back of a taxi: “delighting in its wit and flow, its mixing of sincerity and self-effacement, the warming anecdote, the dip into a pun, the soar into high seriousness here and there, a splash of poetry, a flash of skin.” A generous assessment of the novel itself.

A colorful man nears his demise with a bit o’ philosophizing and a song.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-239456-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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