by Zadie Smith ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 5, 2023
Intelligent and thoughtful but not quite at this groundbreaking writer’s usual level of excellence.
An obscure English novelist and a missing-heir trial are the real historical springboards for Smith’s latest fiction.
Eliza Touchet is cousin and housekeeper to William Ainsworth, whose novel Jack Sheppard once outsold Oliver Twist but who, by 1868, has been far eclipsed by his erstwhile friend Dickens. Widower William is about to marry his maid Sarah Wells, who has borne him a child. Characteristically, he leaves the arrangements to Eliza, who manages everything about his life except the novels he keeps cranking out, which his shrewd cousin knows are dreadful. The new Mrs. Ainsworth is obsessed with the man claiming to be Sir Roger Tichborne, heir to a family fortune who was reported drowned in a shipwreck. The Claimant, as he is called, is likely a butcher from Wapping, but Sarah is one of many working-class Britons who passionately defend him as a man of the people being done wrong by the toffs. Eliza gets drawn into the trial by her fascination with Andrew Bogle, formerly enslaved by the Tichbornes in Jamaica, who recognizes the Claimant as Sir Roger. A Roman Catholic in Protestant Britain and William’s former lover who's been supplanted by a younger woman, Eliza feels a connection to Bogle as a fellow outsider. (Some pointed scenes, however, make it clear that this sense of kinship is one-sided and that well-intentioned Eliza can be as patronizing as any other white Briton.) Smith alternates the progress of the trial with Eliza’s memories of the past, which include tart assessments of William’s circle of literary pals, who eventually make clear their disdain for his work, and intriguing allusions to her affair with William’s first wife and to her S&M sex with William. (Eliza wielded the whips.) It’s skillfully done, but the minutely detailed trial scenes provide more information than most readers will want, and a lengthy middle section recounting Bogle’s African ancestry and enslaved life, though gripping, further blurs the narrative’s focus. Historical fiction doesn’t seem to bring out Smith’s strongest gifts; this rather pallid narrative lacks the zest of her previous novels’ depictions of contemporary life.Intelligent and thoughtful but not quite at this groundbreaking writer’s usual level of excellence.
Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023
Page Count: 464
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023
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by Barbara Kingsolver ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 18, 2022
An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2022
New York Times Bestseller
Pulitzer Prize Winner
Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.
It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.
Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022
Page Count: 560
Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022
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by Nathan Hill ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 26, 2023
A warmhearted satire that chronicles our “perfectly, stupidly, dreadfully elegant” accommodations to life.
A bittersweet novel of love gained, lost, and regained over the course of decades.
“They stare across the alley, into dark apartments, and they don’t know it, but they’re staring at each other.” It’s not an outtake from Hitchcock’s Rear Window but instead the wistful longings of two lonely people. Jack Baker, newly arrived in Chicago from Kansas in the 1990s, is a talented photographer who bristles when practical-minded people ask him what his work is about—to say nothing of why he works with Polaroids, which, a hipster friend reminds him, “are mass-produced, instant, cheap, impermanent.” Yes, and that’s the point, for though Jack comes from the windblown prairie, he’s pretty avant-garde. Elizabeth Augustine is a quadruple major at DePaul, “five majors if you count theater, which I have no talent for but enjoy nonetheless,” and exactly the woman Jack hoped he would meet. Life proceeds: That arty hipster becomes a real estate mogul who plants them in a development very much outside their price range until Elizabeth pulls down the big bucks from the psychological research firm that gives Hill’s latest its simple title. “Basically they were a watchdog group, a subcontractor for the FDA and FTC, sniffing out bullshit,” Hill writes, but Elizabeth, scraping by while Jack pulls down pennies as an adjunct professor, discovers that there’s hay to be made creating bullshit rather than exposing it—making airplane seats narrower, for instance, and then selling once normal-sized seats at a premium. Hill romps through our soufflélike culture with a nice sendup of academic literature and broad jabs at memes ranging from organic food (“one-hundred-percent bioavailable”) to progressive parenting, open marriage, and cult behavior (“Elizabeth knew...that the thing that most effectively strengthened and deepened delusions was being surrounded by people who shared the same delusions”) while delivering a story that suggests that while love may not conquer all, it makes a good start.A warmhearted satire that chronicles our “perfectly, stupidly, dreadfully elegant” accommodations to life.
Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2023
Page Count: 624
Review Posted Online: June 21, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2023
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