Crackerjack genre yarns with real literary depth and polish.

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IN SEARCH OF AND OTHERS

Mundane reality mixes with the magical and the macabre in this scintillating collection of speculative fiction.

Inspired by the pop-enigma TV anthology hosted by Leonard Nimoy, Ludwigsen’s droll yet haunting title piece sets the tone, answering the puzzling questions with a blend of mythology and cynical common sense—“[t]he creature in Loch Ness was a plesiosaur, but it died in 1976 and locals concealed the carcass”—that eventually homes in on a homicide detective’s buried secrets. In other stories, characters confront the supernatural—or actively recruit it: A realtor specializing in haunted houses and murder scenes seeks out those special buyers who might like “stigmatized properties”; a 13-year-old girl tries to quantify her dog’s dream world for a science-fair project; a cantankerous hillbilly family resists government agents who want to upload their consciousnesses into a paradise simulation; a sentient house tears lose from its foundations and embarks on an epic journey to salve its guilty conscience; and the imaginary kingdom of Thuria intrudes into several narratives, cropping up in an off-kilter scouting expedition, a mother’s psychotic break and a post-modern literary scholar’s research on an ancient coded text. Ludwigsen’s well-wrought, entertaining tales feel like a mashup of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, and his evocative, whip-smart prose steeps readers in a realism that’s mordantly funny and matter-of-fact but glimmering with whimsy and horror that leaks around the edges. The stories also work as subtle explorations of character and psychology, especially in the superb story “The Ghost Factory,” in which the spectral inhabitants of a defunct mental hospital enact the spiritual dysfunctions of modern life by fading from the world. Ludwigsen’s creepy, comic world reveals plenty about our own.

Crackerjack genre yarns with real literary depth and polish.

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1590212707

Page Count: 196

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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