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JULIA

Adding a major plot twist, a nice shot of (somewhat cynical) hope, and more graphic sex should win over even purists.

In a retelling of 1984, Winston Smith's lover takes center stage.

As the author of two previous dystopian novels (The Heavens, 2019; The Men, 2022) and a humorous guide to classic literature (The Western Lit Survival Kit, 2012), Newman seems uniquely qualified to update Orwell’s anti-fascist cri du cœur. If you haven’t recently read 1984, it's worth perusing a plot summary to appreciate her achievement, placing Julia Worthing at the center of the action and moving Smith to a supporting role. All the familiar lineaments are here—Airstrip One, Oceania, Big Brother, Newspeak, the Ministries of Truth and Love, the dreaded Room 101, the rats (oy, the rats), as well as every character, many of them revised in clever ways. Though Newman sticks with the worldbuilding Orwell planned in 1949, not adding post-'84 developments like smartphones, home assistants, or the internet (though these actually do seem to play the surveillance role that Orwell assigned to the telescreens), she embroiders the edges of the original WWII-flavored vision with myriad amusing flourishes (and if you remember anything about 1984, you remember that amusing is not one of the adjectives that comes to mind). For example, though Julia is still a mechanic, working on the machines of Fiction, her first job at the Ministry of Truth was producing porno novels for proles, e.g., Inner Party Sinners: ‘My Telescreen is Broken, Comrade!’ She meets “a very willing but ignorant girl with the preposterous name of Typity. It was one of the new ultra-Party names; its letters stood for ‘Three-Year Plan In Two Years.’ ” Orwell described Julia as “a rebel from the waist down” and Newman runs with that, making Winston Smith one of many lovers and recasting his noble anti-state obsessions through Julia’s much more pragmatic eyes. “Most folk muddled along, but Old Misery Smith couldn’t even say ‘ungood’ without looking as if it scalded his mouth.” Book clubs could have great fun reading the two together.

Adding a major plot twist, a nice shot of (somewhat cynical) hope, and more graphic sex should win over even purists.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2023

ISBN: 9780063265332

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

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An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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