An intelligent, entertaining, and yet unconvincing mashup of Office Space, A Scanner Darkly, and A Clockwork Orange.

VINCENT AND ALICE AND ALICE

An artist-cum-bureaucrat gets his wife back (or a version of her) in Jones’ (Crystal Eaters, 2014, etc.) fourth novel.

It is a summer of thunderstorms and xenophobic unrest in A-Ville, but Vincent, a former painter who works for the state, hardly notices. He’s reeling with depression because his wife, Alice—fed up with Vincent’s emotional enslavement to the retirement package (still hypothetical and more than 20 years away) that keeps him from quitting his job and leaving A-Ville—has divorced him. Then Vincent is asked to participate in PER, a program run by Ronald Reagan worshipper Dorian Blood, who promises that PER will allow Vincent to “live a fulfilling existence while being a productive worker”; in other words, it will distort his experience of reality so that he can work with “stunning proficiency” while “physically interacting with the life [he’s] always wanted.” Vincent has reservations, but Jones wouldn’t have a book if Vincent didn’t acquiesce, so he does, only to discover that his ideal life consists of just one change: It includes Alice. An uneasy mishmash of social satire, moral fable, dystopian sci-fi, and love story, Jones’ novel slides between the influential shadows of writers like Anthony Burgess, George Saunders, Philip K. Dick, and Don DeLillo while never quite cohering into a convincing shape of its own. This is, in part, because the world—a twist and shake different from our own—feels incompletely built. PER Alice, for example, is never quite convincing as an entity, mostly because we don’t know the metaphysical rules of her existence: Sometimes she’s visible and audible to others—when she answers the telephone, her words are heard—and yet she’s also a nontangible figment of Vincent’s memory. Similarly underdeveloped are A-ville’s violence and racism, the existence of which would powerfully indict Vincent’s solipsism—people are attacking Muslims while he perpetuates his fantasies and earns his pension—if the scenes that describe it, which are jocular and cartoonish, didn’t feel written solely to have exactly that moral effect. However, Jones is an acute cultural observer and a very funny aphorist—“Anger is lazy”; “Men are brave but only inside cars”; “Everything makes sense if you let it”;—and his book, despite its faults, contains many delights.

An intelligent, entertaining, and yet unconvincing mashup of Office Space, A Scanner Darkly, and A Clockwork Orange.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9992186-7-9

Page Count: 265

Publisher: Tyrant Books

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...

WITHOUT FAIL

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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