A frenzied yet wistful monologue from a lover of literature under siege.

RIOTS I HAVE KNOWN

A hyperliterate prisoner who is barricaded in his sanctuary while a riot unfolds writes his last words.

Well-versed pop-culture writer Chapman (Conversation Sparks, 2015) offers a debut novel that is as eccentric as it comes but also fitfully funny and murderously wry in its humor. Our imprisoned narrator is, as happens in a lot of transgressive comic novels, nameless but for his prison moniker, “MF.” There’s really no character here—we only learn our nameless narrator is an immigrant from Sri Lanka whose previous gig was working as a doorman in New York City—but he serves as a convenient cipher who allows the author to wax poetic about the role of literature in society and the blunt cruelty of the American prison system while enabling his capricious doppelgänger to pen arch reminiscences of his paramours. These include the now-bitterly despised Betsy Pankhurst, with whom, in a flashback, the narrator has an intimately described conjugal visit, and a fellow prisoner named McNairy, with whom he has what he calls a “meet-cute.” It turns out that our narrator is the editor of a popular prison journal aptly dubbed The Holding Pen, and apparently one of his missives has triggered the very riot that now threatens his life. The book is purposefully messy—the prose is breathless, meandering, and riddled with pop-culture references and responses to real-time events on platforms like Instagram and Reddit, which the narrator has access to as editor of the paper—but Chapman demonstrates an arch humor that mimics French existentialism as much as it does traditional American satire. It’s even easy to gain an odd affection for our superarrogant narrator despite his supercilious tone and his sentence, which is, as we learn late in the game, for doing something genuinely terrible. This is certainly not a book for casual readers, but those who appreciate a genuinely original stylist and acidly dark humor will find it an odd treat.

A frenzied yet wistful monologue from a lover of literature under siege.

Pub Date: May 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9730-7

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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