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Daughters of Frankenstein

LESBIAN MAD SCIENTISTS!

A lively and engrossing collection of female-driven fiction.

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Berman (Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers, 2014, etc.) edits an anthology of sci-fi and horror from queer perspectives.

In this new anthology from Lethe Press, a cavalcade of emerging writers from the realms of horror and science fiction riffs on the concept of female (mad) scientists. The convention has a heritage: as Connie Wilkins points out in the introduction, if these women are the daughters of Frankenstein, then they are the granddaughters of Mary Shelley and great-granddaughters of Mary Wollstonecraft. Jess Nevins offer further contextualizing with the essay “From Alexander Pope to Splice: A Short History of the Female Mad Scientist,” laying out the history and evolution of the trope. Then come the stories themselves: in “The Moorhead Maze Experiment,” an ambitious psychologist attempts to outdo the Stanford Prison Experiment in terms of innovative sadism; in “Love in the Time of Markov Processes,” a lab assistant falls in love with a scientist against the backdrop of a finite universe; in “Meddling Kids,” an oddly familiar mystery-solving team with a Great Dane in tow foil a professor’s sinister plans. The tones of the pieces vary from campy to earnest to unsettling to literary, though in each case the author works to shift the ground beneath the reader and recast his or her assumptions. Standouts include a Lovecraft-evoking but ultimately intimate submission from Claire Humphrey (“This is Salem at its oldest and spookiest: cold fog off the ocean, daylight dimming early, gables and gambrels looming at odd angles”) and a wonderfully original piece by Romie Stott about a girl trapped by her father in a Fabergé egg during the Bolshevik Revolution. A few fall flat, but they are in the minority, and the freshness of the voices outweighs the occasional lack of polish. The result is a rare combination of subverted gender norms and nostalgic pulp: sometimes provocative and generally fun. While the anthology’s theme may sound niche, the reading experience argues the opposite. Short fiction fans of all stripes will find much to compel them (and to scare, excite, arouse, and amuse them, as well).

A lively and engrossing collection of female-driven fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59021-360-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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