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

THREE FOR A DOLLAR

AND OTHER STORIES

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

ISBN: 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.

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DEVOLUTION

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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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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