Thomson succeeds on a number of levels here, for the novel works as a mystery, as a love story, as a historical novel and,...

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Thomson (Death of a Murderer, 2007, etc.) takes us to 17th-century Florence, which by definition seems to be full of corrupt politicians, unscrupulous clergy and aspiring artists—and this, of course, long after the Renaissance has ended.

We begin with a dialogue between Italian sculptor Gaetano Zummo (called “Zumbo” by the French) and Marguerite-Louise of Orléans, now an abbess at a convent but formerly wife of Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Zummo’s reminiscences take him back some 25 years, though the bulk of the action occurs about 10 years before his meeting with the abbess. He’s been summoned by the Grand Duke on an odd commission—the Duke wants Zummo to sculpt the female form, perfect in every detail, from wax. The Duke in part wishes to escape a marriage in which his wife does not try to hide her contempt for him and, particularly, for his failings as a lover. (The Duchess has plenty of experience in this amatory realm and is thus likely a fair judge of her husband’s lack of prowess.) In his wanderings around the city, and in his need to experiment with various techniques to produce the desired aesthetic result, Zummo meets Faustina, a lovely Florentine. They quickly become lovers, and Zummo develops a strong desire to protect her, for she’s being both pursued and persecuted by an exceptionally cruel and sensual Dominican priest named Stufa, nicknamed, for reasons that become obvious, “Flesh.” Through some detective work, Zummo eventually discovers that Faustina is in fact the daughter of the Grand Duchess, but this knowledge does not protect her, and Zummo comes up with a plan to forever rid their lives of Stufa.

Thomson succeeds on a number of levels here, for the novel works as a mystery, as a love story, as a historical novel and, more abstractly, as an exploration of aesthetic theory.

Pub Date: April 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59051-685-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

THE SILENT PATIENT

A woman accused of shooting her husband six times in the face refuses to speak.

"Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artists—Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer." Michaelides' debut is narrated in the voice of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who applies for a job at the institution where Alicia is incarcerated because he's fascinated with her case and believes he will be able to get her to talk. The narration of the increasingly unrealistic events that follow is interwoven with excerpts from Alicia's diary. Ah, yes, the old interwoven diary trick. When you read Alicia's diary you'll conclude the woman could well have been a novelist instead of a painter because it contains page after page of detailed dialogue, scenes, and conversations quite unlike those in any journal you've ever seen. " 'What's the matter?' 'I can't talk about it on the phone, I need to see you.' 'It's just—I'm not sure I can make it up to Cambridge at the minute.' 'I'll come to you. This afternoon. Okay?' Something in Paul's voice made me agree without thinking about it. He sounded desperate. 'Okay. Are you sure you can't tell me about it now?' 'I'll see you later.' Paul hung up." Wouldn't all this appear in a diary as "Paul wouldn't tell me what was wrong"? An even more improbable entry is the one that pins the tail on the killer. While much of the book is clumsy, contrived, and silly, it is while reading passages of the diary that one may actually find oneself laughing out loud.

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30169-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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