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

THREE NOVELS

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 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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As one of Whitehead’s characters might say of their creator, When you’re hot, you’re hot.

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HARLEM SHUFFLE

After winning back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes for his previous two books, Whitehead lets fly with a typically crafty change-up: a crime novel set in mid-20th-century Harlem.

The twin triumphs of The Underground Railroad (2016) and The Nickel Boys (2019) may have led Whitehead’s fans to believe he would lean even harder on social justice themes in his next novel. But by now, it should be clear that this most eclectic of contemporary masters never repeats himself, and his new novel is as audacious, ingenious, and spellbinding as any of his previous period pieces. Its unlikely and appealing protagonist is Ray Carney, who, when the story begins in 1959, is expecting a second child with his wife, Elizabeth, while selling used furniture and appliances on Harlem’s storied, ever bustling 125th Street. Ray’s difficult childhood as a hoodlum’s son forced to all but raise himself makes him an exemplar of the self-made man to everybody but his upper-middle-class in-laws, aghast that their daughter and grandchildren live in a small apartment within earshot of the subway tracks. Try as he might, however, Ray can’t quite wrest free of his criminal roots. To help make ends meet as he struggles to grow his business, Ray takes covert trips downtown to sell lost or stolen jewelry, some of it coming through the dubious means of Ray’s ne’er-do-well cousin, Freddie, who’s been getting Ray into hot messes since they were kids. Freddie’s now involved in a scheme to rob the Hotel Theresa, the fabled “Waldorf of Harlem," and he wants his cousin to fence whatever he and his unsavory, volatile cohorts take in. This caper, which goes wrong in several perilous ways, is only the first in a series of strenuous tests of character and resources Ray endures from the back end of the 1950s to the Harlem riots of 1964. Throughout, readers will be captivated by a Dickensian array of colorful, idiosyncratic characters, from itchy-fingered gangsters to working-class women with a low threshold for male folly. What’s even more impressive is Whitehead’s densely layered, intricately woven rendering of New York City in the Kennedy era, a time filled with both the bright promise of greater economic opportunity and looming despair due to the growing heroin plague. It's a city in which, as one character observes, “everybody’s kicking back or kicking up. Unless you’re on top.”

As one of Whitehead’s characters might say of their creator, When you’re hot, you’re hot.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54513-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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