A cleareyed set of tales about perseverance, with strong, relatable characters and often compelling prose.

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PATTERNS

STORIES

A collection of stories set in a Southern town highlights characters’ responses to setbacks.

Worsham (Going to Wings, 2017, etc.) tells quirky tales of ordinary people facing down loss—loss of innocence, loss of composure, or sometimes loss of life. The best story here, “The Second Mrs. Willis,” a coming-of-age account of a preacher’s stepdaughter, is gripping from the first sentence: “I married my English teacher because he got me pregnant. Then he got fired from his job, and now we have nothing.” The longest and most ambitious story, “The Traveling Shoe,” concerns a group of friends who watches one of their number, Maria, die slowly of cancer. When Maria’s partner, June, finds an old golf shoe beside the road and puts in another couple’s mailbox on a whim, it begins a game that eases Maria’s last days for everyone. The most curious addition, “Significant Loss,” is more like a prose poem, only a page and a half in length. Some stories are slim on plot, functioning more as character profiles, and they’re often placeless, set in towns in an unidentified state—though a few identify it as Georgia, where the author was raised. Worsham’s voice is easygoing, understated, and wry, avoiding a surfeit of metaphors and figurative language. Her images are refreshingly low-key, as when a person’s mother is described as having a “dumpy body like a pillow with a belt.” Her symbolism can be overbearing at times, though, as when the narrator of “The Traveling Shoe” finds the mate to the first golf shoe and throws it into the lake, imagining it washing up at June’s house as the latter mourns Maria’s death. Her language is occasionally imprecise, as in the phrase “large bosoms” (which should be singular in this context). However, she compensates with enough spot-on observations to fill a book of quotations, such as this from “The Washer’s Husband”: “He didn’t know then that wives could reveal things that girlfriends never could.”

A cleareyed set of tales about perseverance, with strong, relatable characters and often compelling prose.

Pub Date: June 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-12148-1

Page Count: 158

Publisher: Third Lung Press

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

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.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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