Though Redel has chosen a difficult topic, too often she opts for “a-w-w” moments rather than unflinching confrontations.

BEFORE EVERYTHING

Friends and family gather to cajole, comfort, and/or castigate a dying woman.

In a nonlinear accumulation of vignettes spanning several decades, Redel (Make Me Do Things, 2013, etc.) presents the life of Anna, whose charisma and beauty have, over the years, made her an icon in many lives. When, in middle age, Anna's rare lymphoma returns, she foregoes treatment and chooses home hospice. A swirl of friends descends, and their individual stories are woven into the fabric of her waning days. There are the Old Friends, women she’s known since grade school: recovering addict Helen, now a famous, globe-trotting painter; Ming, a high-powered lawyer whose daughter has a seizure disorder; Caroline, caregiver of a perpetually needy bipolar older sister; and Molly, a lesbian, daughter of a drunken, cruel mother. The Valley friends, women who for the last 20 years have shared Anna’s life in shabby-chic Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts, are feeling displaced. Her two brothers, both physicians, and her separated-but-not-necessarily-estranged husband, Reuben, are also in attendance, as well as her oldest son, Julian, who confides a secret only to Anna: she is going to be a grandmother. Valley and Old friends alike urge Anna to stay alive, and occasionally she rallies, eating a quart of ice cream and dragooning the Old Friends into an impromptu road trip. In this teeming cast of high achievers, individual personalities are hard to distinguish. Despite being constantly reminded that Anna is a queen bee, a mathlete, and a rock star whose blues band mates adore her, we learn little about her, specifically how she has managed to amass such a vast and loyal following. The prose is accomplished and the images are striking even if Redel can’t resist two descriptive phrases when one will do. Only one scene in the novel lifts it, and us, out of our comfort zone: when Anna crashes a Canyon Ranch–type spa, bringing home to its patrons just how ephemeral “wellness” can really be.

Though Redel has chosen a difficult topic, too often she opts for “a-w-w” moments rather than unflinching confrontations.

Pub Date: June 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2257-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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