Insouciant, twee, and aphoristic, Rutkowski’s voice handily skewers stupidity.

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VIOLENT OUTBURSTS

Rutkowski’s new flash-fiction compendium covers the gamut of hipster angst.

These 86 stories, most no longer than a page, resemble prose poems in that they highlight a single motif. Plot and storytelling play second fiddle to an Oulipo-esque obsession with language and wordplay. Puns abound, testing the average Anglophone’s tolerance for such contrivances: “When I hear ‘ice pack,’ I reach for an ice pick” (“Freon Drunk”); “Greekness, not Geekiness” (“If I Were He”); a linkage of “tantric” and “tantrum” (“At the Ayurvedic Center”). The proliferation of M’s in “McDonald’s Mania” goads McDonald’s own alliterative copy to hilarious extremes. Alliteration renders scatology sophisticated in “Caught in the Worst Way.” With additional insights bespeaking, perhaps, the perspective of maturity, Rutkowski reiterates themes and episodes covered in his earlier work (Haywire, 2010, etc.). These include tremulous childhood, subpar education, soul-sucking employment, the artist on the margins, the Asian-American experience, urban life, and the transgressive joys of tobacco. Stories often involve a turn that morphs the mundane into incipient madness, as in the OCD manifesto “Departure Checklist.” The unnamed first-person narrator common to all these short-shorts evinces alienation as he observes how his childhood pets’ feeding habits very closely resemble his own (“Pet-Food Dishes”), remarks on the vagaries of outdoor plumbing (“Our Basic Outhouse”), and imagines the palate of a dung beetle (“This Is the Shit”). Underwater real estate ownership is deplored in “Our Place.” In “Fuck the Dumb,” Rutkowski indulges in one of his favorite pursuits: disparaging literary conferences. A few stories, though, read like writing exercises picked up at those same conferences: “In College” begins every sentence with “I liked” or “I didn’t like.” In “UFOs,” each paragraph leads off with some variation of “The saucer man led us all away,” a device evoking a sestina or villanelle. As with a poetry collection, the stories here give up their full riches only on repeated reading.

Insouciant, twee, and aphoristic, Rutkowski’s voice handily skewers stupidity.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941550-58-8

Page Count: 124

Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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