Narrated by a cybercentury Wife of Bath, this bawdy tale suspends both our disbelief and our scruples.

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THE BUS ON THURSDAY

While recovering from breast cancer, a woman takes a job as a teacher at a one-room schoolhouse in an isolated Australian town, where she is beset by both inner and outer demons.

Eleanor Mellett is in her early 30s, recently single, and in recovery from cancer treatments that have culminated in a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. A support group misfit, Eleanor begins to keep a private blog as a therapeutic gesture. It is through this device that Eleanor’s “funny-angry” voice, the unchallenged star of this unconventional novel, dictates the reader’s experience of the plot. In short order, Eleanor moves to remote Talbingo to replace the angelic Miss Barker (who's disappeared), becomes involved with the erotically gifted vacuum salesman Gregory and his lumpen teenage brother, Ryan, and runs afoul of the small-town sensibilities of a host of characters, from the school’s ferocious front-office maven, Glenda, to the exorcism-happy Friar. Throw in an ominous “1960s sci-fi power station, like some kind of reinforced bunker where Dr. Evil might live,” a vengeful, reanimated hand, and the potentially sentient soul-transport bus of the title, and the results may seem like a hyperbolic decoupage of B-movie reference, each layer complicating and confusing the one before. What saves this book from the threat of murk, however, is movie director and writer Barrett’s (Rush Oh!, 2016) skillful deployment of the form. Eleanor’s voice is bold, frank, and savagely funny. Her observations about the intersections of cancer culture and the rom-com ideology of a certain kind of 21st-century feminism are so keen as to draw blood. Moreover, the total-eclipse–level narcissism of this personal-blog style neatly conceals how unreliable Eleanor’s perspective actually becomes. Readers will find themselves going to great lengths to excuse some of her more dubious behaviors—including, but not limited to: assault, breaking and entering, and potentially maiming the Friar. Eleanor begins her blog by stumbling through a world of familiar absurdity and ends it by stumbling out of a world whose absurdity has become frenetically surreal. The journey from here to there shows the alert reader a tremendous amount about both the rigidity of our social mores and the flexibility of our sympathies.

Narrated by a cybercentury Wife of Bath, this bawdy tale suspends both our disbelief and our scruples.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-11044-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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