Unsettling, endearing, and brilliant.

PRETEND I AM SOMEONE YOU LIKE

A dysfunctional Louisiana family spins out of control in this novel by Dasgupta (The Sea Singer, 2016, etc.).

Barn is a 7-year-old boy who wishes that he had the power of flight. At the beginning of the story, he climbs up on the roof of the family home in rural Louisiana, having glued feathers to his skin. It’s easy to understand why he wants to fly away; his father, referred to as Uncle Gerald, is a ne’er-do-well who’s wanted for all manner of criminal offences. Barn’s cousin Mutty, the novel’s first-person narrator, soon convinces Barn that he actually can’t fly. Mutty lives with his mother and Barn in a boarded-up farmhouse. He also has a fascination with Pepper, a mysterious, vociferous young woman who shows up at the farm on a regular basis. Pepper and Mutty aren’t friends, but they often have uninhibited, rough sex. After Uncle Gerald is arrested, Barn starts refusing to talk, and soon the family’s world descends into turmoil. Another character, referred to as The Dirty Man, shows up in town—a chilling figure from Pepper’s sordid past. Mutty’s estranged father, Pierre, reveals that The Dirty Man, otherwise known as Brody, bought Pepper from another man named Mallow, and he now owns “her skin and everything in between.” The Dirty Man is intent on taking her away, but she’s a fighter (and a biter). She’s also growing emotionally closer to Mutty, who will do anything to protect those close to him. This is a deeply idiosyncratic novel with a wildly unique descriptive style. The opening reads like a book for early readers: “Cow, cow, cow, went the moo, and cat, cat, cat went the meow, and dog, dog, dog, went the bark.” This approach continues throughout, although it becomes rather more adult in tone after Mutty and Pepper’s visit to a sex toy shop: “Leather, leather, leather went the thong. Zzzz, zzzz, zzzz went the vibrate.” Mutty is a desperately unreliable narrator who offers a deliciously distorted reading of events. At one point he remarks, “The man walked up to us. Pepper’s nails were deep into my skin.” This is repeated as “Pepper walked up to us. The man’s nails were deep into my skin.” And then, “My skin walked up to us, and Pepper’s nails were deep into the man’s skin.” It’s akin to experimental poetry, and readers are regularly left piecing together fragments while searching for meaning. It takes some work on the reader’s part, but it’s well worth the effort. Dasgupta is an ingenious writer with a painterly eye for detail, as when Mutty confides: “all I could do was sit and watch Barn play under the pepper sprinkled sun.” He also has an equal power to disturb—as when Mutty buys strawberry-flavored edible underwear at a store as a snack for Barn to eat. This is courageously strange writing that will intrigue and beguile the reader from the get-go, and it boasts a denouement that would make Quentin Tarantino squirm.

Unsettling, endearing, and brilliant.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60489-211-6

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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TRUE BETRAYALS

Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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