A sprawling story about the value of work that ultimately misses the point of redemption.



It’s only the end of the world for a semi-journalist who loses his lifetime gig.

Florida journalist Shine turns on his profession with this acidly funny but disjointed first novel about a newspaper refugee who takes unemployment harder than most. His Everyman hero is 46-year-old Jeffrey Reiner, the listings editor at a South Florida weekly with an atmosphere so poisonous that the employees flee to happy hour at the first whiff of a layoff. This introduction has a similar vibe to Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End, as Reiner mourns the loss of the humdrum job he’s held for 18 years. His wife, Anna, is a terrifying perfectionist who soon loses patience with Jeffrey’s self-delusions. “All the career counseling and self-help books and job fairs and networking crap—it’s all monotonous and repetitive,” he whines. “There’s too much emphasis on working. They act like nobody can exist without having a great job. There are other things I’m doing. Important things.” Meanwhile, his kids Andrew and Kristin are incensed over the loss of cable and laptop privileges. To deal with his increasing stress, Jeffrey contemplates writing a blog about his plight, spends time with his loser buddies and uses his unemployment counselor as a makeshift shrink. Before long, he’s taking questionable assignments from Omar, a fly-by-night entrepreneur. There are highlights to this dysfunctional odyssey—a major freak-out involving a tire dealer and a disastrous trip to swim with dolphins are two of the book’s best moments. However, for all the zippy dialogue and culturally savvy humor, the story never seems to go anywhere—just like its increasingly tiresome protagonist’s career. The book might appeal to the masses of unemployed workers out there, but its lessons are few and far between.

A sprawling story about the value of work that ultimately misses the point of redemption.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-58985-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed. This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel". It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define. Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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