Ventrella reveals the many ways in which the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons—and the daughters.

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A DECENT FAMILY

In the 1980s, a malacarne, or “bad seed,” grows up in a gritty neighborhood in the Italian city of Bari, on the Adriatic Coast, and seeks escape from the violence and mortifications she witnesses and endures there.

Maria De Santis, the spirited daughter of the mercurial Antonio and his browbeaten wife, Teresa, lives up to the “bad seed” designation bestowed upon her by her fisherman father, a Tony Curtis look-alike with a violent temper. Life in the poorest quarter of Bari provides Marí with few opportunities to indulge in wanderlust or satisfy her yearning for escape and recognition. A childhood alliance with the overweight and shunned Michele—another outsider with considerable family burdens of his own—provides Marí with a confidant and much-needed companion in adventure. Long-standing family rivalries and animosities (some based in reality, some in superstition) determine the course of Marí and Michele’s relationship in ways which are tragic, operatic, and soap operatic all at once. Marí’s violent family life mirrors the brutal reality of everyday life in the Bari underclass, but her struggle to escape her home, family, and city resembles the experiences of other young heroines as well. Ventrella’s narrative examines themes of class and gender expectations, accompanied by enough nostalgic detail to make the "old country" more appealing in memory than it was in reality. Inevitable comparisons of Ventrella’s work with that of Elena Ferrante—who also dissects the emotional experiences of young Italian women—will be propelled by Goldstein’s fluid translation of this novel in the wake of her work on Ferrante’s juggernaut. Ventrella's ambitious attempt to convey Marí's struggle echoes Ferrante's epic approach to chronicling women's lives, but, here, the action is played out on a smaller scale, over a shorter time, with fewer characters. Simmering violence and misogyny percolate beneath the surface of Marí’s story, but, really, everyone seems miserable and trapped in the net of poverty and deprivation Ventrella wraps around her characters.

Ventrella reveals the many ways in which the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons—and the daughters.

Pub Date: June 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0443-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: AmazonCrossing

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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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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