A welcome gathering of centrifugal works by one of Mexico’s most accomplished contemporary writers.


The Mexican postmodernist, heir in equal parts to Cormac McCarthy and Juan Rulfo, delivers a hallucinatory study of his country in this omnibus.

Herrera shuns proper names of people and places: Mexico City is the “Big Chilango,” characters bear names such as the Artist, the Witch, and Mr. Q. His ghostly landscapes are reminiscent of Rulfo’s in the iconic novel Pedro Páramo, but his characters are even more ethereal. Many are up to no good, delivering packages whose contents we can only guess at, trying to avoid falling into vast sinkholes and the jails of La Migra. The bad guys speak as if in a Peckinpah film; says one, before putting a hole in a wobbly drunk, “I don’t think you heard a thing. You know why? Because dead men have very poor hearing.” One of Herrera’s central preoccupations is with finding a language to convey the strangeness of our time and, failing that, falling into silence. That language can be knotted and slangy, as when a character called the Girl says in the first novel, Kingdom Cons, “It’s amped here, singer, it’s trick as shit; man, it’s all sauce; it’s wicked, slick, I mean this place is tight; people here come from everywhere and everybody’s down.” The other two novels in this loosely knit trilogy, Signs Preceding the End of the World and The Transmigration of Bodies (the latter a neat play on the Catholic concept of the transmigration of souls and playing again on the dangerous border between two nameless nations), are published in the order in which Herrera wrote them. They’re even more powerful read together, with their nightmare scenes of a Mexican boy who, as in the Civil War, steps in to do military service in the U.S. for a rich kid and of nouveau-drug-rich people who remain in their poor neighborhood: “they just added locks and doors and stories and a shit-ton of cement to their houses, one with more tile than the other.”

A welcome gathering of centrifugal works by one of Mexico’s most accomplished contemporary writers.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-913505-24-0

Page Count: 376

Publisher: And Other Stories

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

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What happens when a midlist author steals a manuscript and publishes it as her own?

June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together, moved to D.C. after graduation, and are both writers, but the similarities end there. While June has had little success since publication and is struggling to write her second novel, Athena has become a darling of the publishing industry, much to June’s frustration. When Athena suddenly dies, June, almost accidentally, walks off with her latest manuscript, a novel about the World War I Chinese Labour Corps. June edits the novel and passes it off as her own, and no one seems the wiser, but once the novel becomes a smash success, cracks begin to form. When June faces social media accusations and staggering writer’s block, she can’t shake the feeling that someone knows the truth about what she’s done. This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm.

A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9780063250833

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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