A wacky novel filled with scarcely believable yet entertaining twists of fate from the author of, most recently, But I Love You Anyway (1996). When she’s fired from a dead-end bank job, Jenny Brown prowls her bland suburb, searching for a fulfillment equivalent to that her preoccupied biologist husband Todd finds in studying the genetic properties of brain tumors. Her aimlessness works to her advantage when she wanders into the Institute of Affirmation, where a bevy of oddball classes are offered, including Homecooking for Your Pet, Living Alone and Loving It, and Finishing What You Started. Jenny sits in on an acting class and quickly gets hooked. The Institute’s motto, —The Answer is Yes,— becomes the new student’s mantra as she makes a series of bold and somewhat improbable moves. Frustrated by Todd’s seeming indifference, she choreographs a dramatic exit with her wise adoptive mother—only to discover that Todd never noticed she was gone. Then she agrees to direct a play for her acting class and finds herself welcomed into a community of quasi-misfits who provide the warmth that her marriage lacks. Given Jenny’s inexperience, the success of the first play seems just a little too lucky. Casting, costuming, and choreographing roles for more than 30 actors does intimidate her, but her new friends—conveniently, seamstresses and handymen—pitch in to help whenever she’s feeling overextended. Preparations, though, come to a grinding halt when the director falls off a ladder and ends up in the hospital, but the accident becomes the set-up for Todd, who rarely takes an interest in his wife, to overhear Michael (director of the Institute) professing love for her. Closing with a series of tidy surprises that test credibility, this is, still, a quirkily gratifying escape for any reader who believes in small miracles.

Pub Date: July 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-15-100326-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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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.


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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