Give the author his own ill-fated summation: “It’s a cruel cliché: the last thing you lose is hope.”

DIFFICULT LIGHT

An elderly painter with roots in South America reflects on his life since he immigrated to New York City.

It’s hard to say what was on González’s mind as he wrote this novel, nearly 40 years after his debut, In the Beginning Was the Sea (1983), but it’s a very poetic reverie. Our narrator is an aged painter with origins in Bogotá, Colombia—called “Don David” by his housekeeper, Ángela—but in the current timeline, he’s relatively settled in New York. The most important people in his life have been his wife, Sara, whom he married at 26 and was married to for some five decades until she passed away, and his sons, Pablo and Jacobo, each of whom had their own burdens to carry. This is in some ways a reflection on aging, as the painter has macular degeneration and a variety of other maladies, and in others simply a picturesque and vivid remembrance of the moments that mattered in one person's life. At the bottom of it all is the narrator's unending grief over his son, Jacobo, paralyzed when a junkie driving a pickup truck struck the taxi he was riding in at the time. To his credit, González could have written a portrait of triumph over adversity, but life just doesn’t work that way sometimes, and the painter is forced to see his son suffer and finally die. The book’s narrative style is both modest and subdued, no doubt aided by Rosenberg, who previously translated the author’s last work, The Storm (2018). For better or worse, mostly it’s sad, neither a celebration of the narrator’s long life nor an embittered prosecution of the terrible pitfalls that befell him and his. It’s just a life, after all.

Give the author his own ill-fated summation: “It’s a cruel cliché: the last thing you lose is hope.”

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-939810-60-1

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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