A voice like none other writing today—Pink is riveting.

THE ICE CREAM MAN & OTHER STORIES

Pink’s (The Garbage Times/White Ibis: Two Novellas, 2018, etc.) latest book continues his eyes-wide-open exploration of the many underbellies of modern life.

It's almost impossible to describe one of Pink’s books without relying on adjectives chronically overused to evoke a certain type of 21st-century voice-driven urban realism. His books are gritty, it’s true; also cynical, often vicious, funny in a wry, despairing sort of way. The characters that populate Pink’s world are junkies and drunks, homeless veterans and runaways, people laboring at brutally absurd jobs, people lost in the overwhelming trash of their lives. Yet the feeling one leaves a Pink novel with is less world-weariness or disgust than the recognition of a tremulous, wavering kind of belief in tenderness, beauty, and hope. Expressing itself in Pink’s signature single-sentence paragraphs, and replete with onomatopoetic belches, squelches, slurps, and titters, the voice that narrates this book is no exception to this rule. Pink splits the stories into three geographically defined sections and proceeds to follow his frequently unnamed narrators through the frozen alleys of Chicago to the blazing cul-de-sacs of Florida and back up north to the stark fields of Michigan. Along the way readers look through the eyes of a murderous dishwasher who hates you (every you) more even than the ramekins he washes; a novice ice cream man finding a species of the sublime in doing “maybe the first job [he] ever had where people were happy to see [him]”; a wedding caterer, awash in the beauty of the banal, who comes to an unlikely tête-à-tête with a magnificent, and dangerous, stag. There are young women who have stomped the guts out of rats, friendly meth addicts willing to guide the narrator to the best local tattoo shop, many beloved animal companions, and many beloved, if often unsalvageable, human friends. Pink, who is also a visual artist and a musician, continues exploring a world of the relentlessly profane with the kind of tender humanity usually reserved for stories more interested in the redemption of their characters. Pink is far too honest to fall into this trap. His characters don’t need redemption so much as they need a sandwich, or a blanket, or someone to talk with in order to pass the time, and herein lies the collection’s greatest, and most surprising, strength.

A voice like none other writing today—Pink is riveting.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59376-593-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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