A sublimely sensitive war tale rendered in exquisite language.

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YONDER WHERE THE ROAD BENDS

A Civil War novel chronicles a teenager’s participation in the Battle of Natural Bridge as a Confederate soldier and his life in the defeated South. 

In March 1865, Virgil Hill is a military student at the West Florida Seminary and nearly 17 years old. Yankee soldiers intend to cross the Natural Bridge over the St. Marks River before they march into Florida’s state capital, Tallahassee. Gen. Sam Jones and his second-in-command, Gen. William Miller, realize they desperately need to recruit as many able-bodied men as possible to push back the Union Army, and that necessity is the magnet that draws Virgil into the war. On the way, he meets Neil Clary, a New Orleans native wizened by adversity—he’s only three years older than Virgil, but no one would ever guess that. Neil confesses that he’s a deserter—he ran away from the Tennessee Army, carrying the identification papers belonging to another man, which he is incapable of reading. He asks Virgil to write a letter for him to Ella Mayfield, a girlfriend devotedly waiting for his return. But Neil doesn’t survive the great Battle of Natural Bridge, hauntingly described by Abrams (A Piece of Bad Luck, 1995) in poetically stylized prose: “It is hard to stay collected at first. Hundreds of wild-eyed devils come firing and the high snarl, the sigh of lead looking hard for you can quicken the blood, make you grit your teeth.” Once the battle is won, Virgil treks back to the family farm and attempts to find his missing father, to no avail. He then travels in search of Ella, dedicated to giving her a ring Neil wore, and ends up working on her farm for months, lost between strenuous labor and burgeoning love. Abrams captivatingly depicts the atmosphere at the time—many of the Union soldiers attempting to cross the Natural Bridge are black, and few in the Confederate units have ever seen armed black men before. The sense of prideful triumph from the victory quickly evaporates into despair following Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Virgil is intriguingly complex, especially for such a young man—never a slave owner but still furious over the South’s loss, he is steadfastly unwilling to submit himself to despair, though he considers his youth spent. The author’s writing is an unusual mélange of period dialect and lyrical meditation, which creates a mood saturated in gravity: “I saw that the body remained in varying degrees of holes and rents, but that the main ingredient had moved away. The dead are not there anymore, is what I saw, and that the body alone is but a paltry affair and no more than a house abandoned.” Readers who fancy Faulkner—both for his expressive prose and his authentic portrayals of the American South—are likely to find in Abrams a kindred literary spirit. The novel’s pace plods a bit in the second half but never fully becomes slothful, and even that modest lethargy is more than compensated for by the intelligence and refinement of the prose. 

A sublimely sensitive war tale rendered in exquisite language. 

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60489-217-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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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

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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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