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WEDNESDAY'S CHILD

Quiet, beautiful accounts of journeys through hell.

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“Air oxidizes, water rusts. Time, like air and water, erodes.” Li expands on this premise in a collection of 11 short stories.

Revisiting the territories of grief and loss she’s explored in earlier works, Li places her protagonists in situations of reflection upon the circumstances of their bereaved lives. Mothers contemplate the deaths of children, wives recall long-estranged husbands, and women are haunted by missing friends. An infinite variety of ways to survive—or, at least, march through—devastating loss are cataloged in Li’s cool and measured litany of pain. In “When We Were Happy We Had Other Names,” the mother of a teen who has ended his own life opens a spreadsheet of all those she knows who have died in a literal calculation of grief. (The same mother muses upon whether life is just the antechamber for death.) The dead and missing in Li’s stories are not without voice: A woman who is the lone long-term survivor of a teenage suicide pact in which several of her friends died—detailed in “Alone”—realizes the other girls have made themselves more present in her later life through their absence. The bereaved often carry the weight of either casual or calculated misogyny along with their life burdens, and echoes of #MeToo claims underlie other injuries. The relative values of memory and forgetting are examined, too, as one woman does not “indulge” in focusing on the past (in “Hello, Goodbye”) and another muses that memory is actually nonlinear and more of a jumbled haystack of incomplete stories which can only attempt to distract from an absence (“When We Were Happy We Had Other Names”). The cumulative mass of the stories is sobering, a gorgeous almanac of the world of pain.

Quiet, beautiful accounts of journeys through hell.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9780374606374

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

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

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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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ALL FOURS

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

A woman set to embark on a cross-country road trip instead drives to a nearby motel and becomes obsessed with a local man.

According to Harris, the husband of the narrator of July’s novel, everyone in life is either a Parker or a Driver. “Drivers,” Harris says, “are able to maintain awareness and engagement even when life is boring.” The narrator knows she’s a Parker, someone who needs “a discrete task that seems impossible, something…for which they might receive applause.” For the narrator, a “semi-famous” bisexual woman in her mid-40s living in Los Angeles, this task is her art; it’s only by haphazard chance that she’s fallen into a traditional straight marriage and motherhood. When the narrator needs to be in New York for work, she decides on a solo road trip as a way of forcing herself to be more of a metaphorical Driver. She makes it all of 30 minutes when, for reasons she doesn’t quite understand, she pulls over in Monrovia. After encountering a man who wipes her windows at a gas station and then chats with her at the local diner, she checks in to a motel, where she begins an all-consuming intimacy with him. For the first time in her life, she feels truly present. But she can only pretend to travel so long before she must go home and figure out how to live the rest of a life that she—that any woman in midlife—has no map for. July’s novel is a characteristically witty, startlingly intimate take on Dante’s “In the middle of life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood”—if the dark wood were the WebMD site for menopause and a cheap room at the Excelsior Motel.

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

Pub Date: May 14, 2024

ISBN: 9780593190265

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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