THE WORLD CANNOT GIVE

An incandescent exploration of adolescent angst.

Teenage zealotry turns toxic.

Earnest Nevada high school junior Laura Stearns is so obsessed with Sebastian Webster’s 1936 work of “wild-eyed genius,” All Before Them, that she convinces her parents to send her to St. Dunstan’s, Webster’s alma mater and the coastal Maine academy where his book is set. Like Webster’s self-modeled protagonist, Laura yearns to escape the “sclerotic modern world” and undergo a “shipwreck of the soul”—experiences she feels certain her transfer will facilitate. Though Laura is initially disillusioned by the irreverence her peers have for St. Dunstan’s and its traditions—particularly Evensong, a weekly church service at which attendance is mandatory—everything changes when fellow Webster devotee Virginia Strauss invites Laura to join the chapel choir, of which she is president. Laura and the five boys who comprise the group may not share Christian convert Virginia’s fire-and-brimstone fervor, but they are united in their love of music—and infatuation with their beautiful, terrifying leader. As such, they allow Virginia to micromanage their lives, ostensibly in hopes of maximizing their potential. Laura has never been so happy—until a progressive new chaplain usurps Virginia’s control over the ensemble, causing the vindictive overachiever to spiral. Burton develops what begins as an apparent Donna Tartt pastiche into a defiantly distinct meditation on power, desire, and the search for self. Events unfold from Laura’s perspective via an increasingly breathless third-person-present narrative, conferring voyeuristic intimacy. Deftly drawn, deeply insecure characters complement the melodramatic plot, which crescendos to a devastating close.

An incandescent exploration of adolescent angst.

Pub Date: March 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982170-06-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

HOLLY

Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

A much-beloved author gives a favorite recurring character her own novel.

Holly Gibney made her first appearance in print with a small role in Mr. Mercedes (2014). She played a larger role in The Outsider (2018). And she was the central character in If It Bleeds, a novella in the 2020 collection of the same name. King has said that the character “stole his heart.” Readers adore her, too. One way to look at this book is as several hundred pages of fan service. King offers a lot of callbacks to these earlier works that are undoubtedly a treat for his most loyal devotees. That these easter eggs are meaningless and even befuddling to new readers might make sense in terms of costs and benefits. King isn’t exactly an author desperate to grow his audience; pleasing the people who keep him at the top of the bestseller lists is probably a smart strategy, and this writer achieved the kind of status that whatever he writes is going to be published. Having said all that, it’s possible that even his hardcore fans might find this story a bit slow. There are also issues in terms of style. Much of the language King uses and the cultural references he drops feel a bit creaky. The word slacks occurs with distracting frequency. King uses the phrase keeping it on the down-low in a way that suggests he probably doesn’t understand how this phrase is currently used—and has been used for quite a while. But the biggest problem is that this narrative is framed as a mystery without delivering the pleasures of a mystery. The reader knows who the bad guys are from the start. This can be an effective storytelling device, but in this case, waiting for the private investigator heroine to get to where the reader is at the beginning of the story feels interminable.

Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9781668016138

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

THE VASTER WILDS

The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.

This historical fever dream of a novel follows the flight of a servant girl through the Colonial American wilderness, red in tooth and claw.

As in her last novel, Matrix (2021), Groff’s imaginative journey into a distant time and place is powered by a thrumming engine of language and rhythm. “She had chosen to flee, and in so choosing, she had left behind her everything she had, her roof, her home, her country, her language, the only family she had ever known, the child Bess, who had been born into her care when she was herself a small child of four years or so, her innocence, her understanding of who she was, her dreams of who she might one day be if only she could survive this starving time." Those onrushing sentences will follow the girl, “sixteen or seventeen or perhaps eighteen years of age,” through the wilderness surrounding the desperate colony, driven by famine and plague into barbarism, through the territory of “the powhatan and pamunkey” to what she hopes will be “the settlements of frenchmen, canada,” a place she once saw pointed out on a map. The focus is on the terrors of survival, the exigencies of starvation, the challenges of locomotion, the miseries of a body wounded, infected, and pushed beyond its limit. What plot there is centers on learning the reason for her flight and how it will end, but the book must be read primarily for its sentences and the light it shines on the place of humans in the order of the world. Whether she is eating baby birds and stealing the fluff from the mother’s nest to line her boots, having a little tea party with her meager trove of possessions, temporarily living inside a tree trunk that comes with a pantry full of grubs (spiders prove less tasty), or finally coming to rest in a way neither she nor we can foresee, immersion in the girl’s experience provides a virtual vacation from civilization that readers may find deeply satisfying.

The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9780593418390

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023

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