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THE MEN

Occasionally brilliant but ultimately unsatisfying.

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 15, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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DEVOLUTION

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

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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ALL FOURS

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

A woman set to embark on a cross-country road trip instead drives to a nearby motel and becomes obsessed with a local man.

According to Harris, the husband of the narrator of July’s novel, everyone in life is either a Parker or a Driver. “Drivers,” Harris says, “are able to maintain awareness and engagement even when life is boring.” The narrator knows she’s a Parker, someone who needs “a discrete task that seems impossible, something…for which they might receive applause.” For the narrator, a “semi-famous” bisexual woman in her mid-40s living in Los Angeles, this task is her art; it’s only by haphazard chance that she’s fallen into a traditional straight marriage and motherhood. When the narrator needs to be in New York for work, she decides on a solo road trip as a way of forcing herself to be more of a metaphorical Driver. She makes it all of 30 minutes when, for reasons she doesn’t quite understand, she pulls over in Monrovia. After encountering a man who wipes her windows at a gas station and then chats with her at the local diner, she checks in to a motel, where she begins an all-consuming intimacy with him. For the first time in her life, she feels truly present. But she can only pretend to travel so long before she must go home and figure out how to live the rest of a life that she—that any woman in midlife—has no map for. July’s novel is a characteristically witty, startlingly intimate take on Dante’s “In the middle of life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood”—if the dark wood were the WebMD site for menopause and a cheap room at the Excelsior Motel.

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

Pub Date: May 14, 2024

ISBN: 9780593190265

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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