Class, not cure, is Nunez’s preoccupation, and she handles it with fine-tuned irony and no small measure of profundity.

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SALVATION CITY

An adolescent orphan finds a home with an evangelical Christian community after his parents perish in an influenza pandemic, in the latest from Nunez (The Last of Her Kind, 2005, etc.).

In this not-so-unfathomable scenario, the American health-care system is woefully ill-equipped to cope with a long-predicted worldwide influenza outbreak. Caught in the chaos are Serena and Miles Vining, bourgeois-bohemian academics forced to leave Chicago for Indiana when Miles couldn’t get tenure. Their only son Cole has had a secular upbringing—Miles and Serena scorn fundamentalism of all stripes. When “panflu” suddenly overtakes their small town, Miles dies at home, and after several days of delirium Cole awakens in a hospital, only to learn that his mother has died, as well as his only other next-of-kin, Serena’s twin sister Addy, who lived in Berlin. He’s sent to an orphanage (the sheer number of newly parentless children has revived the need for such institutions) dominated by bullies right out of Lord of the Flies, one of many books Cole had refused to read, much to his parents’ disappointment. Rescued by Pastor Wyatt, a reformed alcoholic turned charismatic minister of a Christian enclave called Salvation City, Cole adjusts gradually to drastically different guardians: PW and his wife Tracy, like most Salvation City families, practice home schooling and exalt only one text, the Bible. Cole is surrounded by endearing born-again characters: Boots, a local radio host, Mason, a disfigured former skinhead with a heart of gold, and Starlyn, Tracy’s jailbait niece, considered a “rapture child” marked for early ascension into heaven. Although Salvation City is on full Apocalyptic alert, Cole’s domestic life with PW and Tracy is distinctly less fraught than with his parents. (Serena and Miles were divorce-bound; PW and Tracy never fight.) When Addy, not dead after all, arrives from Germany to claim him, Cole has to choose between diametrically opposed social milieus—no longer such a clear choice.

Class, not cure, is Nunez’s preoccupation, and she handles it with fine-tuned irony and no small measure of profundity.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59448-766-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged White mom and her Black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a Black boy hoping to go with a White girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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