Haunting images and poetic prose flood this noteworthy collection.


The Inconvenience of the Wings

Zobal’s debut collection of well-crafted short stories leaves a lasting impression.

Although grounded in the real world, Zobal’s stories read like fairy tales and urban legends. In the opening story, “Camp of Low Angels,” a group of boys flip their counselors’ controlled world upside down—hilarity and heartbreak ensue. A woman dies during a snowed-in vacation in “The Bellwether,” and her companions must dig an icy channel to the barn to make a place for her corpse. In “Outlaw,” an attempted Old West–style robbery of a gas station goes absurdly wrong. And in “And We Saw Light,” a bare-foot woman walks singing down a road, carrying a dripping gunnysack, its contents unrevealed. These images evoke weighty themes: savagery, loss, memory, and death. Death lurks in every story: “The water spoke of what it was to be dead. It was flat, still, and empty; yet on its cold surface wore our lifeless image.” The stories meditate on how people confront the inevitability of death, how they talk about it or avoid talking about it, how they remember the dead and, in remembering, keep them alive. One character says, “Let me admit that I have never believed that the dead are entirely gone.” Zobal draws attention to language, sometimes via his characters, who ponder the meanings and shapes of words. In the title story, a ghost writes words for the living in spilled salt on the table: “Woodshed, read the words in salt, birdcall, bone.” Zobal also experiments with structure. The tales spiral in on themselves or proceed in unconnected bursts, like the memories they evoke. Each story links to the one that came before it, sometimes by only a word or image, sometimes by a larger theme or emotion. The final story, “The Hospital,” completes the chain, delivering an emotional change-up of both grief and hope for a new life.

Haunting images and poetic prose flood this noteworthy collection.

Pub Date: June 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1942515012

Page Count: 178

Publisher: Fomite

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

Did you like this book?