A bit rough but generally entertaining. At 105 pages, it’s worth a quick read.

THE SPIDER

Cole’s darkly humorous novella follows burned-out rock ’n’ roller Clifford as he cares for his abusive, mentally ill wife, Suzie, over the course of a day, years after his big shot at fame has passed.

Clifford loves his wife. It’s the only explanation for his staying with her in their dreary English home, trying to make sure she gets her meds and attempting to coax her former radiant self back into the open while she screams at him and tries to kill the neighbor’s dog with a brick. They met when she followed his band from gig to gig—a band she convinced him to leave when the record contract came and undersold his role in the songwriting. She’s obsessed with deceased Queen singer Freddie Mercury; she and Cliff had been regulars at a Queen tribute festival until a year before the action of the novella takes place. Her behavior at last year’s festival might bar them from attending again, though. When Bev, a new festival organizer, shows up at their door to talk to them about going, past behavior and a jealous streak intersect to create an awkward situation. Cole takes advantage of Clifford’s comic possibilities in this literary fiction with a surprising twist at the end. Clifford may be depressed and crusty, but he’s also a loving, doting husband coping with his own needs in a relationship that could charitably be described as distant. (One scene in particular stands out: Clifford at a news agent, attempting to obtain some questionable reading material in the presence of a candy-obsessed priest.) But Clifford is also the only character in the story with any real depth, though this quick read is so short and linear that it’s not much of a problem. The young Suzie makes an appearance as Clifford daydreams of a happier past, but in the present, she’s one-note as she yells at Clifford and eventually Bev. She comes across as dangerous and paranoid, but there’s little underpinning her rancor. In some cases, Cole goes for style over clarity, as in the critical opening scene, for example, in which Clifford prepares Suzie’s pills—although the coy narration won’t admit as much.

A bit rough but generally entertaining. At 105 pages, it’s worth a quick read.

Pub Date: March 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1480021570

Page Count: 112

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2013

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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