A thorough, sweeping novel with seamless transitions from the real to the imagined.

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NAPOLEON IN AMERICA

Evocative and immersive, Selin’s debut historical fiction twists Napoleon’s fate.

The real Napoleon died in 1821 at the age of 51 while in exile on the island of St. Helena. In Selin’s novel, a 51-year-old Napoleon plots and successfully executes an escape, choosing America as his haven. He makes his way aboard a privateer boat to Louisiana, where French expats and Americans alike welcome him with cries of “Vive l’Empereur!” Though enfeebled by his travels, Napoleon hasn’t lost his ambition or hunger for power; soon, he’s traveling around his new country and coming up with schemes every step of the way. International unrest allows him plenty of chances to devise new ways of achieving glory; for Napoleon, strife in France, Mexico, Canada and Texas means opportunity. The novel provides an expansive view of the political landscape, with scenes across the Atlantic effectively displaying ineffective politicians of all bents. The global view is informative, although some geographic jumps dilute the plot’s main—and most entertaining—action, which takes place in America. There, Napoleon proves himself to be a bit obtuse when it comes to social graces (“Napoleon walked through the chandeliered room, uttering words he intended to be pleasant for each lady, but which, for the most part, had the opposite effect”) but somewhat more perceptive about the differences between his former country and his new one. His observations of Americans’ basic optimism and patriotism are astute, yet his impertinence continues to aggravate his companions; for instance, he remarks that America is “a land peopled by greedy merchants.” These vivid quirks and funny faux pas bring levity to a dense, meticulously researched text in which sorting out the many events and characters requires close scrutiny. When the novel turns to scenes of action, rather than conversation, it becomes vigorous, engrossing and remarkably realistic.

A thorough, sweeping novel with seamless transitions from the real to the imagined.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0992127503

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Dry Wall Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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