A slim, sharply pointed knife of a novel.

NIVES

A recently widowed Italian farm wife spends a long night on the phone with her local veterinarian.

With its dependence on dialogue and rising tension as revelations about the characters’ pasts build toward a present-moment crisis, Naspini's short novel feels like a two-character play. The usually resilient 66-year-old Nives falls into despair when her husband of many years dies unexpectedly. Rebuffing a suggestion to leave the farm and move in with her daughter’s family in France, Nives suffers debilitating loneliness until she brings Giacomina, a chicken, into the house for company. Then Giacomina becomes paralyzed, and panicky Nives calls old acquaintance Loriano Bottai for veterinary advice. Once Bottai’s wife, Donatella, rouses the alcoholic vet and goes to bed, Nives and Bottai settle in to what becomes a verbal marathon. Their argument about the chicken’s condition leads to banter about Donatella’s snoring, so loud Nives can hear it over the phone. When Bottai mentions that his upstairs neighbor, Pagliuchi, hears Donatella too, the banter becomes gossip about Pagliuchi’s long-ago youthful affair with Rosa, a girl who threw herself from the church belfry. Nives ponders what it must be like for Pagliuchi, “living with death on [his] conscience,” but reveals that she, as well as Donatella, had problematic relationships as an adolescent with both Pagliuchi and Rosa. While Nives talks in concrete terms about Rosa’s ghost cursing them, Bottai sees Rosa as a metaphor for “that thing we all have, which sometimes keeps us awake at night"—a night Bottai and Nives are sharing as they bring up one “Rosa” after another whom they hurt or were hurt by. The two are by turns friendly and hostile, with each revelation shifting who dominates the conversation. Then, midway through, Nives declares that part of her was “massacred” more than 30 years ago, and it becomes clear that Nives and Bottai are each other’s main “Rosas,” cursed with love, resentment, vengeance, cowardice, and guilt.

A slim, sharply pointed knife of a novel.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-60945-666-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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