A playfully surreal but enthralling story of society’s castoffs.



In Poe’s (The Long Forgetting, 2016, etc.) dramatic novel, a drifter and a wayward teenager find common ground at a boardinghouse for people with disabilities.

Truman Birdsong has been moving from job to job, tarred by an ex-wife’s false accusation of child molestation. After the Weeks brothers, who own a local plant, renege on a promise of employment, Truman gets an offer from Parfit, an enigmatic older man, who says that Mercer, the owner of a boardinghouse for the disabled, is in need of a hired hand. The few who reside at the boardinghouse include Julius Rose, whose curved spine gives him a perpetual hunch, and Aiden Burns, who’s been blind since the age of 10. Parfit also brings in 13-year-old Nicolai Tate, whose mentally ill mother is in the hospital and whose father is in jail. Both Truman and Julius are wary of having the boy at the boardinghouse, particularly as he’s clearly avoiding a probation officer. But the real threat comes from the locals, who treat the boarders as pariahs and may have formed their own militia group. It turns out that the Weeks brothers have a cache of weapons to arm such a group—and may also have eyes on the boardinghouse’s land. Parfit makes a cryptic prediction, implying that Nicolai is in danger. Although Poe touches on serious, real-world subjects, such as violent “antigovernment types,” the story also has an otherworldly overtone. Parfit, for instance, seems to have unexplained abilities—at one point suddenly appearing just when Truman and Nicolai need help. Aiden’s odd, verbose speech is an endearing quirk: “You need a moment to think…a moment and no more, no, not a bit,” he tells Julius. There’s a clearly developed theme of fatherhood throughout; Truman, like Nicolai, has an estranged dad, and it’s hard not to see Truman becoming a paternal figure to the teen. The romance between Truman and Kennis McDuff, Nicolai’s probation officer, is also welcome, although that relationship pales in comparison to the bond between the boardinghouse denizens.

A playfully surreal but enthralling story of society’s castoffs.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9905845-2-0

Page Count: 286

Publisher: Rippo Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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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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