A charming, luminous debut.

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LEONARD AND HUNGRY PAUL

Two men shape lives of uncommon integrity.

In his radiant first novel, Irish musician Hession (aka Mumblin’ Deaf Ro) takes readers into the quiet, seemingly ordinary world of two unusual men, both in their 30s, both solitary by nature: Leonard, who writes entries for children’s encyclopedias, and Hungry Paul, a substitute postman, who works, when needed, on Mondays. Leonard lived with his mother, who has just died; Hungry Paul, with his parents, a retired economist and his cheerful wife, a primary school teacher, nearly retired herself. Although gossips may disparage an adult still living with parents as indolent, Hession portrays the men with respect and generosity. Hungry Paul “never left home because his family was a happy one, and maybe it’s rarer than it ought to be that a person appreciates such things.” The two appreciate their friendship as well: They play board games together, take walks, and confide in one another. Their friendship is a pact “to resist the vortex of busyness and insensitivity that had engulfed the rest of the world. It was a pact of simplicity, which stood against the forces of competitiveness and noise.” Of the two, Hungry Paul seems the more content, blessed with an inviolable “mental stillness” and “natural clarity” that inure him to troubling thoughts: “He just had no interest in, or capacity for, mental chatter.” Leonard is more inclined to second-guess himself and to conjure problems. He becomes afraid that withdrawing from the world might narrow his perspective, turn him “vinegary,” and make other people seem increasingly “unfathomable and perplexing.” He wants to open himself to experiences but worries that if Hungry Paul is content within his small universe, Leonard’s yearning to break out of his “own palpable milky loneliness” will threaten their friendship. The prospect of change propels the plot, prodding each man to articulate, with surprising self-awareness, the depths of his identity and to realize, as Hungry Paul reflects, that “making big decisions was just as consequential as not making them.” No one is “entirely outside of life’s choices; everything leads somewhere.”

A charming, luminous debut.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61219-848-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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