An often endearing book about an ongoing search for meaning.

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SHINING MAN

In Dills’ (Triumph of the Ape, 2013, etc.) novel, a man wonders about the meaning of life while investigating his father’s disappearance. 

In a prologue, Cash has just quit his job in the pit crew of Turner Bascombe, a famous, South Carolina–born automobile racer: “Reconsideration of life in the circuit…just wasn’t an option after all that had happened,” Cash thinks, and the novel looks back to when he was a fry cook at Henry’s Bar & Grill in North Carolina. One day, he received a vague phone message from a co-worker that his father, Ralph, was dead. He couldn’t believe it, and when he was unable to independently confirm the report, he packed up and drove to Chicago. At his father’s apartment, he found stacks of boxes and a cryptic note: “Son! In these boxes may you locate your ultimate salvation—or you might find nothing at all! Just a bunch of orange vests!” Cash decided to cut the vests into pieces and stitch the reflective bits into a suit. He puts it on and roams the streets, becoming known as “Shining Man”—performance artist and traffic scourge. Soon, a photographer takes pictures of him that end up in a local art gallery. Cash doesn’t find his missing father, but a second cryptic note from a mysterious figure (“Suited Man”) sends him to Birmingham, Alabama. There, he meets Turner Bascombe, who’s speeding down an interstate. He offers Cash a spot on his crew, so he moves to Charlotte, North Carolina, where interpersonal drama threatens to tear the team apart. Although the central mystery of Cash’s father’s disappearance results in an unsatisfactory payoff, it ably serves its purpose as a narrative engine, turning the novel into an enjoyable picaresque as Cash undertakes an interstate adventure. The protagonist is meditative and eloquent but also a little dopey at times; at one point, he ruminates on his reflective suit in a manner that may have readers scratching their heads: “’twas a quest for light that, ultimately, given the task’s clear physicality, its mindful mindlessness, blinded me to the possibility of knowledge, of candor, truth.” Cash styles himself a modern-day Henry David Thoreau, but he likes beer more than he does inquiry into life’s true essence. Indeed, his musings often feel like the nonsensical near profundities of a pickled philosopher—but this isn’t always a bad thing. Dills shows himself to be a terrific writer of revelry, and he engagingly depicts camaraderie among fellow artists and among low-wage workers—particularly bartenders and kitchen staff. Cash’s capacities for drink and introspection also don’t go unappreciated by others: “You have lived the lives that men lead, quiet desperation, man,” says Carl, a literary magazine editor. “Fucking Thoreau, dude. You’re the mass of men.” In the novel’s final act, the author highlights Cash’s paranoia as he uncovers the true identity of “Suited Man” and begins to piece together another ugly truth about a terrible accident at the racetrack that may not have been an accident after all. 

An often endearing book about an ongoing search for meaning.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60489-234-5

Page Count: 327

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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