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TRIO

Even if someone left the cake out in the rain, it’s delicious.

A novelist, a producer, and an actress confront their demons on and off a film set.

British author Boyd's 16th novel takes place in Brighton in 1968 and revolves around the making of a film called Emily Bracegirdle's Extremely Useful Ladder to the Moon. The titular trio consists of Elfrida Wing, an alcoholic novelist who hasn't written a book in a decade and whose marriage to the film's director is hanging by a thread; Talbot Kydd, the film's producer, a closeted gay man also in an unhappy marriage; and Anny Viklund, the young American actress playing Emily, who is sleeping with her hunky co-star and continually dosing herself in classic 1960s movie-star style from an abundant pharmacopeia of pills. In addition to these three, a slew of other interesting characters fills out the corners of the novel, giving it the feel of one of Robert Altman's high-spirited ensemble films of this era. Boyd deftly juggles serious and comedic elements, generally favoring the comic, as with Elfrida's many pathetic attempts to convince herself she's getting back on her game. Having been annoyed for most of her career at being compared to Virginia Woolf, she takes it in her head to write a novel based on Woolf's last day on Earth. Over and over she writes the first paragraph—Woolf wakes up, sees a shape the sun is making on the wall (a rhomboid? a parallelogram? a diamond?), has no idea it's the last morning of her life—at which point the author pours herself a glass of vodka to celebrate, and there goes that day. Another running joke involves Talbot's being tormented by the idiotic lyrics of the song "MacArthur Park," which seems to be playing on every radio in the country. His deeper torment regarding his sexuality is highlighted by the changing mores of the period, and he's also got real problems with his movie, which has to be constantly rewritten to work around problems created by its cast.

Even if someone left the cake out in the rain, it’s delicious.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31823-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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