An engrossing exploration of an intimate horror.

READ REVIEW

CONEY ISLAND SIREN

A woman struggles with a violent relationship that is foreshadowed by a mysterious, century-old diary in this thriller by the author of Nights of Indigo Blue (2016).

When Maggie Fuentes, a nurse at a Brooklyn hospital who lives on Coney Island, tries to break up with her boyfriend, Frank Ramirez—a publicly charming, privately abusive cop—the result is a tirade capped by a blow to her head that temporarily knocks her out. In the aftermath, she is plagued by pounding headaches, dizziness, and a growing sense of disorientation. At work, she is saddled with an emotionally unsettling patient who is semiconscious after attempting suicide. Meanwhile, Frank continues his menacing control, mixing protestations of love with callous insults and threats that leave her too frightened to seek legal protection. A few bright spots ease Maggie’s despondency without solving her problems. One is a handsome intern whose interest culminates in torrid trysts but no substantial relationship. Then there are the drugs, including painkillers, that Maggie swipes from patients; marijuana; and black-tar heroin, which makes her so mellow after she smokes it that she manages to fall back in love with Frank. Her self-medication helps her cope but also deepens her loss of autonomy. Maggie’s predicament is paralleled by the entries in a diary she finds at a flea market, written by a servant girl beginning in 1903. Like Maggie, Ellen is trapped by brutal, domineering men and seeks solace in gazing at the moon over the Coney Island beach until a friendship with a fortuneteller prompts her to try to take back her life. As Maggie starts having hallucinations, her identification with Ellen grows so strong that she feels the servant’s spirit entering her and transporting her back in time to a masked ball.

Varela’s haunting tale is in part a superbly realistic evocation of Maggie’s downward spiral that turns darkly claustrophobic as her grip on reality loosens. The hospital scenes are well observed and full of absorbing procedural detail. The rendering of Maggie’s relationship with Frank is vivid and appalling as she negotiates the minefield of his hair-trigger temper and paranoid—sometimes not so paranoid—jealousies. (At one point, he carefully sniffs her to detect evidence of a betrayal, then administers a beating.) The author’s psychologically shrewd prose—“While I was relieved that I hadn’t heard from him,” Maggie muses of Frank, “I was also somewhat annoyed. I hated when he ignored me”—conveys a complex, nuanced portrait of domestic violence. Frank is monstrous but has his own history of childhood abuse. Maggie makes dangerous compromises, finding his domination reassuring and even arousing when it doesn’t terrify her. The novel’s supernatural elements are less compelling. Ellen’s diaristic narrative is threadbare and doesn’t add much to Maggie’s experiences. In addition, Maggie’s visions feel out of place as they become more psychedelic. (“He cut the air around me and a glistening dark-blue snake slithered out of my body,” Maggie observes during an encounter with the Archangel Michael.) There are third-act problems and a misfiring climax as the tale’s spiritual high point weakens the impact of Maggie’s real-world travails. Still, Varela’s portrayal of Maggie’s ordeal is a tour de force in its depiction of a battered woman struggling to recover her mind and soul.

An engrossing exploration of an intimate horror.

Pub Date: May 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73271-671-1

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Pollen Press Publishing LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more