A thoroughly idiosyncratic work of biographical collage.

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LINCOLN'S STORY

THE WAYFARER

Vel combines fiction and history in this unorthodox account of the life of President Abraham Lincoln.

As previous biographies of the Great Emancipator have done, this volume recounts Lincoln’s life from his humble origins in Kentucky to his assassination in Ford’s Theatre. What Vel does differently, however, is to lay a thick filter of non-Western mythology over the tale. After a “Forewarning” that includes a few fables from the Indian subcontinent, the author introduces a frame narrative that involves a God and a Goddess traveling around the world. After they witness a slave auction that offends the Goddess’ moral sensibilities, the two deities work together to create a man who will end slavery in America. They take turns, with each offering attributes that they think will help this favored being. They don’t always agree; for example, as the Goddess reviews God’s assigned attributes, she asks, “Restlessness, melancholy and transience! Are you blessing or cursing?” The biography then begins in earnest, relating each section of Lincoln’s life as a sequence of anecdotes, quotes, and memories, often with the help of a first-person narrator. Vel inhabits the voices of various witnesses to the president’s life, from obscure figures such as Dennis Hanks (Lincoln’s second cousin) and William H. Herndon (Lincoln’s law partner and biographer) to such notables as statesman Frederick Douglass and Union Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. The God and Goddess also pop back in from time to time to observe Lincoln’s progress and offer supplemental information, such as an account of abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. Vel doesn’t appear to have done any original research for the book; footnotes show that most of the historical information came from the same four Lincoln biographies. Aside from the deities and narrators, the reading experience is much more akin to that of nonfiction than fiction; the mix of diary entries, annotations, and apocrypha never fuses into any cohesive narrative. But because Vel offers almost no commentary or historical context, the book does present an intriguing picture of Abraham Lincoln as a semidivine folk hero—a product of a backward present and yet somehow removed from time.

A thoroughly idiosyncratic work of biographical collage.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1483418094

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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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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When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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