Praiseworthy for its solid efforts at worldbuilding but too long and diffuse to add much to the civilization-gone-awry...

THE COUNTRY OF ICE CREAM STAR

A lesson from Thunderdome: Let there be no post-apocalyptic future without its mangled pidgin.

Lifting a page from Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, with which it shares numerous similarities, Newman’s (The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, 2003, etc.) novel lands us in a decidedly unpretty near future. Its protagonist is a young woman named Ice Cream Fifteen Star, a member of a gang-cum-dynasty that migrated north from the “Chespea Water” into New England long ago but that now begins to form designs on its former stomping ground. The young folk of Ice Cream Fifteen Star’s world are tough: “We flee like dragonfly over water,” she tells us, “we fight like ten guns, and we be bell to see. Other children go deranged and unpredictable for our love.” They’re also susceptible to the reaper, who thins their number with a mysterious plague whose cure may just lie down south. The ones who survive the odds, in the social Darwinist world to come, are rather splendid, though: “Simón a child of middling height, with handsome looks of houndish sort. Bear himself peculiar straight, like all his muscles fix with hardness. Now he look tired rough, his face be scurfy with unsleep. Can see his age upon—is twentyish in heaviness.” Newman’s story is inventive, her characters memorable, but her novel labors under the terrific weight of having to carry out that lingo of the future over nearly 600 pages and not drive the reader mad, in which she is only partly successful. (The passages in which more or less standard English figures stand out for their strangeness.) The other problem is a rather lax storyline; by the time the children arrive at their Planet of the Apes–ish destination (“Ya, be Arlington Cemetery, where all ancient soldiers bury, when it been America”), there’s not much steam left.

Praiseworthy for its solid efforts at worldbuilding but too long and diffuse to add much to the civilization-gone-awry library.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-222709-6

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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