Clever writing balances out the conspiracy theories, but the fictional treatment of this issue leaves readers wondering...

SWEETNESS #9

A social satire raises spooky questions about food additives.

"The brain is like the Amazon, Leveraux. Ten steps in and we're lost." So flavorist-in-training David Leveraux is told by his boss when he reveals his worries about the obesity and depression of the animals on whom he's testing a new artificial sweetener, Sweetness #9. The boss explains that as these things go, cancer is easy. Other side effects are "like a scuttling sound on the jungle floor, something that shakes a bush or runs up a tree just moments before you can identify it." That observation is the heart of the first novel by Clark (he's also written a story collection, Vladimir's Moustache, 2012), which will make you nervous about what you eat. Shortly after this conversation, Leveraux is fired and committed to an institution. Then the novel leapfrogs from 1973 to 1998. Leveraux is out of the bin, back in the business and patriarch of a family raised on fake food. Things are not going well: His wife has weight problems, his son has stopped using verbs, and his angry, rebellious daughter is researching an article on food additives. In fact, every character may or may not be showing the depredations of a chemically based diet, and the problem may have originated with experiments in Hitler's bunker. While the plot goes off the deep end, Clark's wit never flags. Of his son Ernest, Leveraux observes, "Churchill once spoke of Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma;...I might describe [Ernest] as a corn dog wrapped inside a slice of pizza stuffed in a Hot Pocket." Of a rival company, Tanko-Shinju: "I've heard [it] translated both as 'pink pearl' and 'two men commit suicide in a coal mine.' "

Clever writing balances out the conspiracy theories, but the fictional treatment of this issue leaves readers wondering about the facts.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-27875-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it...

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THE DUTCH HOUSE

Their mother's disappearance cements an unbreakable connection between a pair of poor-little-rich-kid siblings.

Like The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer or Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, this is a deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it. Toward the end of World War II, real estate developer and landlord Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with the keys to a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. Elna, who had no idea how much money her husband had amassed and still thought they were poor, is appalled by the luxurious property, which comes fully furnished and complete with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) as well as a servant girl named Fluffy. When her son, Danny, is 3 and daughter, Maeve, is 10, Elna's antipathy for the place sends her on the lam—first occasionally, then permanently. This leaves the children with the household help and their rigid, chilly father, but the difficulties of the first year pale when a stepmother and stepsisters appear on the scene. Then those problems are completely dwarfed by further misfortune. It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors—like going to medical school when he has no intention of becoming a doctor—while utterly committed to them. "We had made a fetish out of our disappointment," he says at one point, "fallen in love with it." Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's (Commonwealth, 2016, etc.) stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it.

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-296367-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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