An engrossing, hallucinatory relationship story.

OPEN MY EYES

A young man struggles to articulate his chaotic but numbed feelings in this debut novel.

Seventeen-year-old Eddie falls headlong for Elizabeth, a freshman who plays in the school band with him. As they begin dating and grow closer, he’s as awkward and self-conscious as he is earnest about his first relationship: “In the beginning was Elizabeth, and Elizabeth was in light, and Elizabeth was light.” However, it turns out that circumstances have effectively blurred the line between fantasy and reality for Eddie; his father died years ago, and to this day, the young man addresses his thoughts to the void where his dad should be. His mother responds to the loss by clinging to Eddie in ways that slowly become sinister. And since the fateful car accident, he’s been put on mind-altering medication for unspecified reasons, which causes him to lurch through life in a physical, mental, and emotional fog: He assumed the medication was punishment for his disobedience, he explains, “the longest punishment in childhood history.” However, Elizabeth cuts through his detachment, shining in his memories like a divine being. Yet the significance of her presence in his life raises the stakes of their relationship in untenable ways. Typical hurdles, such as uncomfortable meet-the-parents dinners, assume a mythical awfulness in Eddie’s fragmented neuroses and visions, and he can barely enjoy his newfound happiness under the looming fear that he’ll somehow taint or pollute it. Hahn writes in a clipped, frenetic manner that effectively conveys his narrator’s mental state. Recurring images of snow, fire, and blood give the book religious overtones that feel almost medieval despite Eddie’s refusal to attend church with his mother. Other symbols crowd the story but in a manner that rarely feels heavy-handed; in a particularly engaging scene, for example, Eddie and Elizabeth argue as they watch an inflatable fun house collapse on a group of screaming children. Collectively, the author’s choices create a satisfying sensory experience as the protagonist seeks a real and present version of himself.

An engrossing, hallucinatory relationship story.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947041-28-8

Page Count: 162

Publisher: Running Wild Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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