A playful virtuoso with a deadly seriousness of purpose.

I WALK BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS

The prolific Boyle continues to have fun and make literary mischief with his latest story collection.

There's no reason why these 13 stories should seem so funny, as most of them confront individual mortality and some sort of cultural collapse. They run the gamut from the subversively real to the surreal in such a way that they blur the distinction between the implausible and the inevitable. The epigraph quotes the promise/threat in Willie Dixon’s “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”: “I’m goin’ to mess with you.” And mess with you these stories do, whether it’s removing the blinders from a series of privileged and deluded narrators or messing with the reader’s understanding of where the author might be located in this artistic dynamic. “Key to the Kingdom” invites the reader to see the protagonist as the author, though there’s always peril in doing so with this trickster. Now branded as F.X. Riley, he's returned to his alma mater—where he was known as Frank—to give a reading, and he is given something of a celebrity’s welcome. “Not that he was a celebrity himself, or not especially—books were too obscure in this age to register to that degree on the social scale, especially literary books. Like his.” It’s a story that cuts close to the bone on themes of alcoholism, paternity, and academic suicide, making a strong case that its truth has nothing to do with how factual it might be. The title story doesn’t tempt the reader to confuse author and narrator, though it rings every bit as true and is very funny in the darkest sort of way, as complacency provides little protection in the face of “something like a billion and a half stinking people all hurtling toward the grave. Like everybody else in the world. Like her. Like him.” There’s a futurism running through much of the collection, whether it’s trying to avoid omnipresent facial recognition (“SCS 750”) or submitting to the tyranny of vehicles that take you where they want you to go (“Asleep at the Wheel”), but it seems like we’ve already turned the corner into that future.

A playful virtuoso with a deadly seriousness of purpose.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-305288-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

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OUR MISSING HEARTS

In a dystopian near future, art battles back against fear.

Ng’s first two novels—her arresting debut, Everything I Never Told You (2014), and devastating follow-up, Little Fires Everywhere (2017)—provided an insightful, empathetic perspective on America as it is. Her equally sensitive, nuanced, and vividly drawn latest effort, set in a dystopian near future in which Asian Americans are regarded with scorn and mistrust by the government and their neighbors, offers a frightening portrait of what it might become. The novel’s young protagonist, Bird, was 9 when his mother—without explanation—left him and his father; his father destroyed every sign of her. Now, when Bird is 12, a letter arrives. Because it is addressed to “Bird,” he knows it's from his mother. For three years, he has had to answer to his given name, Noah; repeat that he and his father no longer have anything to do with his mother; try not to attract attention; and endure classmates calling his mother a traitor. None of it makes sense to Bird until his one friend, Sadie, fills him in: His mother, the child of Chinese immigrants, wrote a poem that had improbably become a rallying cry for those protesting PACT—the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act—a law that had helped end the Crisis 10 years before, ushering in an era in which violent economic protests had become vanishingly rare, but fear and suspicion, especially for persons of Asian origin, reigned. One of the Pillars of PACT—“Protects children from environments espousing harmful views”—had been the pretext for Sadie’s removal from her parents, who had sought to expose PACT’s cruelties and, Bird begins to understand, had prompted his own mother’s decision to leave. His mother's letter launches him on an odyssey to locate her, to listen and to learn. From the very first page of this thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving novel, Bird’s story takes wing. Taut and terrifying, Ng’s cautionary tale transports us into an American tomorrow that is all too easy to imagine—and persuasively posits that the antidotes to fear and suspicion are empathy and love.

Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-49254-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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