An ambitious novel with a distinct narrator and fresh voice.

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OUT THERE

A NOVEL

A quirky war veteran goes on a pilgrimage to meet his hero, the author Gabriel García Márquez, in this poetic debut novel.

Jefferson Long Solider has returned home after two tours in Iraq. The young veteran steps off a plane in Albuquerque, N.M., and begins to chant, “I am Jefferson Long Soldier, and I am returned from WA-AR.”  It’s the first of many chanting scenes in a journey steeped in elements of magical realism, echoing Jefferson’s obsession with García Márquez’s 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. He carries the book with him wherever he goes, refers to its author as “GGM” and is certain that it has saved his life. His grandmother Esco and his cousin Nigel welcome him home and anxiously wait to see how the war has changed him. While in Iraq, Jefferson began to record each death he witnessed, and the list begins to haunt him; what should be a triumphant return from war becomes a painful, restless ordeal. Jefferson finds Dr. Monika, an unorthodox “pseudo-doctor” who allows him to chant and talk about his transformative belief in García Márquez’s novel, after which he finds his next step is clear: He must ride Nigel’s motorcycle to Mexico City and see the author in person. Stark presents a largely interior journey, with long passages describing the landscape (“Jefferson could think of nothing in the world he wanted to do as he gazed at the snow-tipped mountains way off in the distance”) and ruminating on García Márquez’s work, although the best storytelling occurs during scenes of action. Jefferson’s adventures are often dreamlike, and some may actually be dreams: At one point, he’s captured by bandits and nearly executed; at others, he’s fed and loved by beautiful twin women and helps a mother deliver a baby in a forest. As the lines blur between Jefferson’s physical journey and his spiritual quest, he eventually finds a purpose for all his stories. The novel’s textual dialogue with One Hundred Years of Solitude is significant, and it’s an ambitious conceit. However, readers who aren’t familiar with that masterpiece may get mired in the details, as Jefferson’s own life story sometimes gets lost. Still, the story’s happy ending is richly deserved. 

An ambitious novel with a distinct narrator and fresh voice.

Pub Date: April 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0991410507

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Leaf Storm Press

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2014

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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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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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