Occasionally brilliant but ultimately unsatisfying.

THE MEN

The author of The Heavens (2019) imagines a world inhabited solely by women.

At 7:14 p.m. Pacific time on Aug. 26, every human being with a Y chromosome disappeared. Jane Pearson wakes the next morning to discover that her husband and young son are gone. Later, she will learn that all the men, all the boys, all the transgender women…they’re all gone. This is not a new concept. Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance (1951) opens with these lines: “The female of the species vanished on the afternoon of the second Tuesday of February at four minutes and fifty-two seconds past four o’clock, Eastern Standard Time.” In Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man series of graphic novels—the first installment published in 2002—a virus kills every man on Earth except for one. A deadly illness that strikes only men also plays a role in Christina Sweeney-Baird’s debut novel, The End of Men, published just last year. What makes Newman’s take on this SF trope different is that this novel doesn’t seem to want to be science fiction. After setting the dystopian narrative in motion, the author pulls back to offer a detailed account of Jane’s life up to this point. After joining a dance troupe as a teen, she falls under the control of a man who abuses her by compelling her to abuse other, younger kids. She escapes jail by testifying against her abuser. This is a horrifying story compellingly told, but it feels like it belongs in a different book. We also get the full history of Evangelyne Moreau, Jane’s one-time friend. A philosopher-turned-politician, an ex-convict, and a former cult member, Evangelyne is a fascinating character, but Newman spends more time sharing Evangelyne’s history than exploring the strange universe she has created. By the last page, the connection between the realistic and speculative parts of the novel is clear, but the speculative elements feel woefully underdeveloped—which is too bad, because they’re inventive and chilling. Also worth noting: There will be readers who object to the gender essentialism upon which this novel relies and the way Newman handles the fate of people who aren’t cisgender when the “men” disappear.

Occasionally brilliant but ultimately unsatisfying.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5966-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

HORSE

A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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