An interesting experiment in nontraditional fiction but a somewhat disappointing follow-up from a talented new voice.



It turns out that war is more boring than hell in these tangentially connected short stories from the author of the memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free (2009).

The author’s collection feels very much like a product of work created for the audiences of the New Yorker and Granta, publications to which he contributes. While the stories aren’t strictly linked to each other, it’s obvious that they’ve been set in the same world, although Sayrafiezadeh goes to great pains to strip his milieu down to a pure, abstract canvas. The stories are set in a world at war, or wars, somewhere on a peninsula. It’s not always clear which country each story is set in, either, although the United States is clearly identified as one of the combatants. The centerpiece is “A Brief Encounter with the Enemy,” during which an American serviceman named Luke finally finds a way to break up the tedium of war. But the story is a rare jab to readers who may be put off by the obscurity of the rest of the collection. Many of the stories, such as “Cartography” and “Appetite,” deal with characters who are not living up to their potentials, toiling in dead-end jobs. Others, like “Enchantment” and “Operators,” examine the aftermath of war with a perplexing simplicity for a writer who is clearly capable of deeper insights. The soldier in “Enchantment” is particularly disappointing, as he waits for a class of prep school students to recognize that “We won” is the right answer to his question: “I’d hold nothing back and they’d be spellbound. Death by drowning, by burning, by whatever means we had available. That was how we won the war.”

An interesting experiment in nontraditional fiction but a somewhat disappointing follow-up from a talented new voice.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9358-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dial Press

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed. This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel". It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define. Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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