Not the most simpatico protagonist, but continuous mishaps make for a gloriously absurd tale.


Who's The Lucky Guy?

A recently unemployed and terminally ill man’s scheme to make millions growing saffron inadvertently sparks an international incident in Muggington’s (Pomroy’s World: Alone, 2015, etc.) droll comedy.

The same day Borden Duffield loses his Wall Street job, his doctor tells him that he has pancreatic cancer and, at best, a year to live. Wife Helen’s new gig walking dogs won’t pay the mortgage, but Borden gets no response from the hundreds of job applications he’s sent out. When he learns saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, Borden and neighbor/best friend Hill Buckley head to Pennsylvania’s Amish Country for pointers on farming it. He figures if he can make a profitable saffron business, he’ll secure Helen’s future. The Amish trip doesn’t go well, so Borden books a flight to Iran, top producer of saffron. His decision to hide his plan from Helen, however, leads to a misunderstanding (of sorts), and Helen reports her husband kidnapped. By the time Borden returns to the U.S., any saffron-relevant info he’s picked up takes a back seat to the media hounding his door. Things only get more confusing from here once the kidnapping ordeal drags a U.S. government agent, a CIA spy, and Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious inventor of the bitcoin, into the Duffields’ lives. Muggington’s novel is chiefly a series of misadventures, amusing scenes involving an inebriated Borden and Hill causing problems, including a kitchen fire. Borden can be boorish at times—he’s unemployed but fully expects Helen to handle the cooking and then complains, even if just to himself, about her culinary skills. Nevertheless, his goal to ensure Helen will be OK after he’s gone is admirable. It’s clear, too, that Borden loves his wife; he’s often in trouble due to excessive drinking, but he’s at least worried that Helen will be mad. The zany story goes in surprising directions, like when Helen suddenly becomes intent on communicating with her canine client, Haggis. She succeeds, a turn that has a humorous connection to the main plot. The ending doesn’t quite answer all the questions—a suitcase mix-up remains a bit perplexing—but Muggington largely resolves the story.

Not the most simpatico protagonist, but continuous mishaps make for a gloriously absurd tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5170-7443-2

Page Count: 280

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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