An astutely realized portrait of the collateral damage wrought by the pursuit of the American dream.

NIGHTS WHEN NOTHING HAPPENED

In Han’s remarkable debut, a misunderstanding gathers enough velocity to almost shatter the nucleus of a Chinese immigrant family in 2003 Texas.

With its motion sensors and automatic sprinklers, the Dallas suburb of Plano seems like a high-resolution version of the all-American town. Scratch the veneer, though, and you’ll see turmoil beneath the gloss. The newly arrived Chengs are a barely functional family unit. They’re not just strangers in a new land—they’re practically strangers to each other. Eleven-year-old Jack is just coming to know his family after having spent his formative years with his grandparents in Tianjin, China. Looking to pursue a doctorate in physics, Patty, Jack's mother, had emigrated first, and Liang, her photographer husband, followed shortly after. Patty’s dreams of higher education were aborted when research funding ran out and she was forced to take up work for Texas Semiconductor. After a few years, the couple saved enough money to bring Jack over. In the meantime, Annabel was born. Jack’s 6-year-old sister is a firecracker who exerts her will to ruinous effect at Plano Star Care. Lacking his wife’s pluck, Liang too has challenges to overcome: his insecurities about hailing from peasant stock and an anemic photography business. Han expertly shifts the ground under the narrative, constantly shaking the snow globe to nudge the reader's perspective away from the familiar. The restrained prose is all the more effective as it releases a Molotov cocktail during a singular moment when Jack’s desire to establish a place in his family clashes with his father’s shaky societal standing. Han’s characters are authentic, vulnerable, and utterly convincing, delivering one dynamite novel.

An astutely realized portrait of the collateral damage wrought by the pursuit of the American dream.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08605-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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