THE VULNERABLES

Sharp—and surprisingly tender.

In Nunez’s latest, set against the early days of New York City’s Covid lockdowns, a woman finds unlikely—and uneasy—companionship in a troubled college student and his parents’ friends’ parrot.

As in What Are You Going Through (2020) and her National Book Award–winning The Friend (2018) before that, Nunez’s subject is the core business of being alive: the tenuous beauty of human connection, the nature of memory, the purpose of writing, the passage of time. All of that sounds pretentious, or precious, or both. It isn’t. Instead, the result is almost arrestingly straightforward. Spare and understated and often quite funny, the experience is less like reading fiction than like eavesdropping on someone else’s brain. To the extent there is a plot, though: a woman, an academic and writer—not unlike Nunez herself—old enough to qualify as “a vulnerable,” agrees to spend the first days of the pandemic living in the apartment of a friend of a friend to look after their miniature macaw, Eureka, who has been abandoned by his previous collegiate bird-sitter. It doesn’t spoil much to say the former bird-sitter—a handsome Gen Z vegan—soon returns without warning, and the pair (or the trio, counting the parrot) become inadvertent housemates. The evolution of those relationships, interpersonal and interspecies, becomes the scaffolding on which everything else hangs. The woman wanders the shuttered city. She has minor interactions with passing strangers, and ruminates on them. (“For the writer, obsessive rumination is a must,” she thinks, in her defense.) She grapples with the meaning and purpose of the novel; she recalls a recent reunion with a tight-knit group of college friends. (It is one of those friends, in fact, who facilitates the bird-sitting gig.) “If it is true that an inability to deal with the future is a sign of mental disturbance,” the woman muses, “I don’t know anyone who is not now disturbed; who has not been disturbed for some time.” And yet—despite the grimness of the setting—the novel itself is strangely, sweetly hopeful; there is, it seems, a reason to go on.

Sharp—and surprisingly tender.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9780593715512

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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