Straight (who is white but eschews the self-congratulating, cliché-laden condescension of books like The Help) employs...

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BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HERE

Set several years before the events of Straight’s Take One Candle Light a Room (2010), the third installment of her trilogy concerns the reactions and memories that a prostitute’s death stirs up in the tightknit black community in Rio Seco, Calif.

Video store employee Sidney Chabert notices Glorette Picard’s body in a shopping cart in the alley behind the Mexican restaurant where he’s just eaten. Glorette has become a streetwalker and a drug addict who has dangerously neglected her brilliant son, Victor. But like every guy who knew her in high school, Sidney has remained in love with Glorette, although it has been 20 years since she was an innocent, preternaturally beautiful girl growing up in orange groves that belonged to her “uncle,” Enrique Antoine, and her father, Gustave—the men’s binding relationship, their establishment of Rio Seco as a refuge for young women escaping a brutal white rapist in Louisiana, and the method by which Enrique gained ownership of the land are haunting subplots reaching back for generations. Once Sidney alerts Antoine’s sons, they bring Glorette’s body back to her family to be buried without police involvement. But her death roils the souls of all those whose lives she’s touched, however tangentially. In less than 250 pages, Straight develops a lot of characters in surprising depth: Enrique is bound for vengeance, while Gustave is overwhelmed with silent grief. Glorette’s former boyfriend Chess has remained devoted to her even after fathering a child with someone else. Enrique’s sons can’t quite leave their father’s home despite wives who strive, with mixed success, to assimilate their children into middle-class America. There are Glorette’s frankly skanky prostitute competitors and the men they service, or don’t service. And there is Glorette’s son, Victor, desperate to make it to college though thwarted at every turn.

Straight (who is white but eschews the self-congratulating, cliché-laden condescension of books like The Help) employs glorious language and a riveting eye for detail to create a fully realized, totally believable world.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-936365-75-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: McSweeney’s

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed. This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel". It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define. Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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