Big-city life has nothing on small-town shenanigans in this often enjoyable read with a serious message.

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Elizabeth Daleiden on Trial

Fritsch’s (Promised Valley Peace, 2013, etc.) historical legal drama reveals the seamy underbelly of a small Illinois farming community.

Jonah Neumeyer, a young gay lawyer living in Chicago in 1977, was 6 years old in 1955 when he witnessed a traumatic house fire in Revere, Illinois, that apparently killed two elderly men. He’s remembered a comment from one of the onlookers ever since, as the charred bodies were brought out by the firemen: “Those two old queers got what they deserved.” Now Jonah has returned to his hometown to find out if that fire was set intentionally. The first step is to speak with the recently widowed Elizabeth Daleiden, who lived in the neighboring house—and who inherited the men’s farm after their deaths. Jonah believes that Elizabeth is hiding something, but he doesn’t anticipate that their conversation will get back to Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, Olivia Daleiden, a nasty, vengeful woman who accuses her of murdering not only the two men, but also Elizabeth’s father in 1950. Somewhat improbably, the Concord County state’s attorney, Tanner Howland, smells the potential for a big-trial victory that will propel his political ambitions; he successfully obtains indictments, and the stage is set for Elizabeth’s takedown. As the unorthodox trial proceeds—with witnesses allowed to expound endlessly without objection—it reveals a veritable Peyton Place of back stories, in which everyone in Revere seems to have connections with everyone else. Fritsch saddles himself with an ambitious task by jumping into the well-trod territory of courtroom dramas. However, the trial is only a vehicle for his examination of small-town prejudices, especially regarding gays and lesbians. He kindly provides a list of characters upfront so readers can keep track of them all, and some of the walk-on players are engaging. That said, most of the real character development is limited to Jonah and Elizabeth; the rest of the players are mostly just divided into good guys or bad. Still, the action moves quickly, and there are enough surprises to keep readers hooked to the end.

Big-city life has nothing on small-town shenanigans in this often enjoyable read with a serious message.

Pub Date: July 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9978829-1-9

Page Count: 216

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2016

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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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