An elegantly conceived tale—boasting a culturally and historically astute plot—that demands to be read.



A tragic twist of fate leaves a revered artist destitute in Texas in this novel.

Seventy-year-old Cosimo Infante Cano was born in Cuba but forged a reputation as a modernist painter living and working in Paris. In 1961, he finds himself experiencing the same “nightmarish anxiety” he felt while fighting in the Great War as he wanders the streets of San Antonio with very little money. His plan was to make a passage from Europe to America to join his lover, Sara Hunter, whom he met in Paris and has known for 14 years. Yet, after his arrival in the United States, he discovers that his suitcases containing his “street clothes and address book” have been stolen. On reaching San Antonio, he then learns that Sara has been killed in a car accident. The wealthy Hunter family chooses to distance itself from him, making his situation even more precarious, as he had entrusted $45,000 to Sara to keep until his arrival along with two trunks packed with his clothes, tools, and brushes. Cosimo barely has the money to find himself a clean bed for the night, let alone the resources to sue the Hunters. Meanwhile, he faces a society where racial prejudice is commonplace. His appearance and bohemian attire mark him immediately as an outsider, or an “odd bird,” as one passerby remarks. Treated as a second-class citizen on account of his race and a vagrant because of his clothes, the city tries to prevent Cosimo from gaining a foothold, but the aging artist’s resilience may be underestimated. Cosimo’s struggle against the odds is absorbing from the get-go. Yet the manner in which Perez (Willa Brown, 2016, etc.) employs several layers of narrative, backtracking to detail the protagonist’s artistic life in ’40s Paris as well as alluding to the horrors he witnessed in World War I, adds richness and depth. The author diligently pins the main narrative to key political events of the era, most significantly the reluctant cessation of racial segregation in the South, which Ruthann Medlin, an openly bigoted San Antonio librarian, bemoans: “That was President Kennedy’s doing. Mixing all the races.” The compelling tale is driven predominantly by strong dialogue, with Perez capturing the sharpness and wit of bohemian cultural repartee, as when Sara playfully comments on a novel she has been translating: “The author’s characters are pale Edward Hopper creatures living in bleak hotel rooms. Having sex, not for pleasure mind you, but out of boredom. It’s as if they’re playing a winless game of tic-tac-toe.” The bond between Cosimo and Sara is also described in satisfyingly tender detail: “She reached out and took his hand, drawing him from the table to the settee. She found his slender fingers with nails trimmed into impeccable crescents particularly sensual.” There’s only one minor flaw: Because Cosimo is such a multifaceted, intricately drawn character, all the other players appear underdeveloped in comparison. Still, this does not detract from a captivating story that orchestrates a clever collision of artistic liberalism with the conservative values of the age.

An elegantly conceived tale—boasting a culturally and historically astute plot—that demands to be read.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-87565-729-5

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Texas Christian University Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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