Funny, surprising, and disarmingly poignant stories that can appear laissez faire but are in fact, very finely crafted.

ETERNAL NIGHT AT THE NATURE MUSEUM

A quirky, often mischievous collection of stories by flash fictionist Barton.

There’s no narrative thread or really any rhyme or reason to this collection, but that’s definitely part of its charm. The stories here can be contained in a single paragraph or spread out to etch little moments in the lives of their characters. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of Raymond Carver or John Steinbeck in its evident compassion for the human condition but also doesn’t linger long enough to offer a deep dive into the pathos of its denizens. The opener, “Once Nothing, Twice Shatter,” begins with a bang as an aging radio shock jock finds bigger and better jolts to the nervous system when he becomes a demolition derby driver. Some are mere sketches but entertaining nonetheless, as in “The Skins,” which chronicles the search for the perfect set of hand claps for a recording studio, or the equally brief “County Map (Detail),” which is pretty much just a laundry list of small-town idiosyncrasies. There are some really great lines here, ranging from the opener of “Hiccups Forever”—“An hour after it happened, I watched our house explode"—to the Sam Shepard–ish vibe that launches “Spit If You Call It Fear” as the narrator confesses, “He’s my brother and I love him but, Jesus, I won’t miss him.” "Black Sands," one of the more playful tales, finds the inherent humor in old age as a 14-year-old girl clashes with her father, while the assisted living residents in “Of a Whole Body (Passing Through)” plot to escape their prison at every opportunity. There’s also some genuine old-school flashbacks, as in “K,” which finds a guy reflecting on his childhood addiction to break dancing, and more modern satire in “Cowboy Man, Major Player,” which employs the themes of Modest Mouse’s music to portray the foibles of a man accidentally becoming a meme.

Funny, surprising, and disarmingly poignant stories that can appear laissez faire but are in fact, very finely crafted.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-946448-84-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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