A plainspoken and ultimately involving collection of tales laying bare the complexities underneath normal suburban life.




A series of interconnected short stories centers on one community and many of its people.

Wachtel’s (The Music Makers, 2014, etc.) collection of 20 tales focuses on seemingly simple, ordinary people, looking inside their lives to discover quick moments of doubt, quiet crises, and intricate webs of self-deception. These are the residents of a New Jersey community much like any other, and the prism through which Wachtel views many of their lives is the Jewish American experience of synagogue and shul, of rabbis and holy days. In “Stealing Time,” young Lizzie Kempner’s life is derailed by the discovery of her shoplifting habit; in “A Woman of Valor,” dutiful, thwarted Mrs. Tinsel endures the sudden, unexpected death of her indifferent husband; in “Sleeping on Glaciers,” Rabbi Jake Goodman quietly contends not only with his son’s autism, but also with persistent hints of his own deteriorating health; in “JoJo’s Fear,” a family confronts a tragedy symbolized by the death of the family dog; and in “Done,” Simon Waltrip, a retired hardware store owner, calmly, methodically contemplates his own suicide. In all these stories and more, Wachtel follows the same cast—characters only glimpsed in one tale go on to star in another—through the ostensibly mundane concerns of their lives. The writing throughout is more workmanlike than showy and in need of a strong editor: typos, odd omissions, and awkward sentences occur frequently (for example, “boxer shirts”; “articles on both the Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Paris world accords”). Wachtel sometimes displays a flair for description (In “Fog,” she writes: “It was one of those pink spring days when the sky opened wide to a million possibilities”). And her dialogue invests her characters with a vitality that’s often striking, including in “Sleeping on Glaciers,” in which a man doubts his faith (“ ‘When life ends, no matter the circumstances,’ he stopped, gulping air, ‘it ends. To say otherwise provides hope, but a false hope. To say otherwise is just plain—what’s the word? Dishonest’ ”). But for the most part, the prose here is a means for telling stories rather than an end in itself—efficient rather than dazzling. When readers encounter Lizzie’s thoughts, for instance, they hear them unadorned: “The time would come that she would be revealed for what she truly was—a nobody. A fake.” When Wachtel wants to convey the simple fidelity of a rabbi, she writes: “It was faith that had buoyed the life of Jake Goodman for as long as he could remember.” Readers watch as Waltrip, grieving for his wife and grappling with the failure of his business, emotionlessly plots the actual mechanics of his suicide. The tactic of braiding recurring characters into various tales works successfully here; it creates a tapestry feeling that only strengthens on rereading and that highlights the book’s subtle reminders that compelling stories lurk behind even the most straightforward outward appearances. In this way, “Done” may be the volume’s best offering—Waltrip’s experience of first planning his suicide and then rethinking it is entirely private, completely unseen by the other people in his community.

A plainspoken and ultimately involving collection of tales laying bare the complexities underneath normal suburban life.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: 209

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.


Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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


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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