An affecting portrayal of an emotionally abandoned girl.

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DARLING GIRL

In this debut novel, a child grows up under the shadow of her family’s dysfunction. 

When DG’s mother, Margaret, begins to leave home for extended hiatuses, the girl is far too young—only 5 years old—to understand why. Her father, Alcide Louis Pitre, blames it on her recurrent fatigue, and her grandpa chalks it up to extreme sensitivity: “Your mama, I think she just feels too much. Feels everything too much.” When Margaret is around, she seems to float in and out of a fuguelike trance, sometimes sleeping the entire day away, leaving DG to tend to her younger siblings. One day, she greets DG with warm affection but forgets her name, a moment heart-rendingly captured by Watkins. Alcide is a pipeliner, and as a result, the family moves often and broadly—Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Australia, South Africa—and that peripatetic rootlessness only adds to DG’s feelings of dislocation. But over time, she starts to see evidence that her mother’s chronic mental illness isn’t the family’s real disease, which is her father’s despotism. A serial philanderer, he is also maniacally controlling, physically abusing Margaret. At a neighborhood party, he’s discovered having sex with a local’s wife and unashamedly laughs off the indiscretion. While he’s capable of great sweetness, he can mercurially shift in an instant. Margaret finally asserts herself and demands a divorce, but she’s infinitely forgiving and terrified to be alone. Disgusted by her father, DG plots with her mother to find a way to decisively liberate herself from the clenched grip of his cunning dominion.  Watkins relates the entire story from DG’s first-person perspective, masterfully capturing her shifting voice from early childhood to her teens. Still, the novel’s principal strength is its beautifully conceived characters: DG and her mom are both infinitely loving but deeply wounded, and Alcide is incorrigibly unpredictable, by turns a tyrant and a charmer: “The best way to describe him is like a lighthouse beacon. As long as you are in the warmth of his regard, it seems the best place to be. Safe and bright and beautiful. Outside of his regard, there might be monsters—cold, dark, scary.” The author’s writing is self-assured and nuanced, and even in DG’s youth one can detect her precocious intelligence. In addition, the cumbersome weight of the girl’s premature domestic obligations in the absence of a responsible parent is shatteringly depicted. On two occasions, Margaret summons DG to drive a vehicle illegally—in the second instance, to help break her out of a rest home. (Margaret even provides elaborate instructions on how to look older.) One minor criticism: DG’s siblings are resigned to the background, a largely mute supporting cast. Giving them more life and agency could have furnished a fuller perspective on the family’s emotional fragility as well as Margaret’s neurasthenic stupor. Nevertheless, this is a powerful drama that impressively manages to both haunt and inspire. 

An affecting portrayal of an emotionally abandoned girl. 

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73226-624-7

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Green Place Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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