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SWEETNESS #9

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

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 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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