American novels about protest have been thin on the ground since the days of Ken Kesey and Edward Abbey. The genre deserves...

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YOUR HEART IS A MUSCLE THE SIZE OF A FIST

A ground-level reimagining of the violent protests at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, told from a host of perspectives.

The emotional core of Yapa’s debut novel is the fraughtly named Victor, a 19-year-old who’s come to Seattle after a few years of globe-trotting to sharpen his social-justice sensibilities—and to confront his stepfather, the fraughtly named Bishop, head of the city’s police force. The downtown streets are swarming with protesters determined to halt the movement of WTO delegates, who are seen as pillaging poorer nations in the name of free trade, and the story bounces dutifully among a handful of characters representing the various factions. There’s John Henry, a middle-aged and weathered protest vet; Timothy, a hotheaded cop impatient with nonviolent resistance; King, a live-wire tough-talker; Julia, a cop who’s softened following a stint in Los Angeles policing the Rodney King riots; and Charles, a Sri Lankan delegate baffled by the chaos in the streets but determined to make his meetings. Yapa’s grasp of the pre–9/11 global diaspora is sound, and he’s knowledgeable about the tactics that both protesters and law enforcement use against each other. But lacking much in the way of deep characterization—we are meant to believe that Bishop made a bonfire of Victor’s mother’s lefty books and that Victor fled the country because of it—the novel is largely a parade of pat sentiments and facile contradictions. King is committed to nonviolence—but does she have a violent past? Charles cares for his countrymen—but is he selling them out? The purpler prose only highlights the thinness of the storytelling: Bishop has “a heart full of loss and a head full of doom”; chanting, John Henry says, is “how we hold the fear in our mouths and transform it into gold.”

American novels about protest have been thin on the ground since the days of Ken Kesey and Edward Abbey. The genre deserves a better revival effort than this.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-38653-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

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

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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

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