There’s still more to each story after the author is finished with her characters, and that’s what makes this collection so...


Nine Facts That Can Change Your Life


Wineberg (Second Language, 2005, etc.) follows up her novel with this emotional short story collection, consisting largely of works previously published in literary journals.  

The overriding theme running through each of these 15 stories is the tenacity and vulnerability of human connection. Most of the lead characters watch one life dissolve while another begins, as their memories of past relationships persist and affect their abilities to form new ones. This plays out in obvious moments, such as when a mother leaves her daughter at college for the first time (“Taking Leave”), and in more subtle situations, such as when a woman ignores a phone message from her ex-husband in order to concentrate on her new lover. In the title piece, a woman named Grace uses a self-help newsletter to try to console herself about her husband’s decision to seek a divorce; it tells her that “relatively small hassles often have a greater impact on us than major life events do.” That statement is true for some characters but not for others, and certainly not for Grace. The most harrowing story in the collection is “A Question of Place,” in which a mother finds herself rushing her 3-year-old daughter to the hospital with a pencil jabbed into her stomach while also trying to keep her 5- and 7-year-old kids in line. When she finally faces her husband, who was unexpectedly called in to work during the crisis, she realizes that she can’t be with him anymore. But Wineberg doesn’t write the end of the marriage—she ends with the realization as a turning point. The author doesn’t resolve anything too cleanly or neatly, which is something she does quite well throughout this collection. It gives the stories more weight and makes them feel more real, and it also makes the tension between old and new lives more acute.

There’s still more to each story after the author is finished with her characters, and that’s what makes this collection so satisfying.

Pub Date: May 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9971010-0-3

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Serving House Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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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.


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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