Taylor tackles a variety of taboos and articulates the comfortless sides of the soul, and it's thrilling to watch.

FILTHY ANIMALS

A story collection full of vital insight into murky human interactions.

Lionel, who animates several of the linked stories in this high-wire act of a collection, is a Black, queer graduate student at an unnamed Midwestern university—much like Wallace, the protagonist of Taylor’s Booker Prize–shortlisted debut novel, Real Life (2020). He studies pure math and is recovering from a suicide attempt. At a party, he mimics other grad students’ laughter because he doesn’t innately feel the social cues most people would. But Lionel isn’t devoid of emotion. In fact, the “feeling of falseness vibrating in his sinuses” from pretending to enjoy social events utterly wears him out. So when Lionel becomes involved with bisexual Charles and his girlfriend, Sophie, both of whom are studying dance, the frisson may be too much for him: “Some lives, Lionel thought, had to be ordinary or ugly or painful. Ending your life had to be on the table.” Other stories share this rueful, sepulchral cast of mind. In “Little Beast,” babysitter and private chef Sylvia knows that “the world can’t abide a raw woman.” In the title story, one character’s “favorite act of violence is to burn holes into people’s clothes when they aren’t looking.” The settings here are bleak—alienated suburbs; petty college campuses—and the mood unsparing. But the daring in these stories is bracing. Despite its accolades, Taylor’s debut novel could feel listless; this collection is a deeper achievement.

Taylor tackles a variety of taboos and articulates the comfortless sides of the soul, and it's thrilling to watch.

Pub Date: June 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-53891-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Groff’s trademarkworthy sentences bring vivid buoyancy to a magisterial story.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

MATRIX

Set in early medieval Europe, this book paints a rousing portrait of an abbess seizing and holding power.

After the spicy, structurally innovative Fates and Furies (2015), Groff spins back 850 years to a girl on a horse: “She rides out of the forest alone. Seventeen years old, in the cold March drizzle, Marie who comes from France.” The inspiration is a historical figure, Marie de France, considered the first woman to write poetry in French. Groff gives her a fraught, lifelong, sexually charged tie to Eleanor of Aquitaine. A matrix, which comes from the Latin for mother, builds implacably between Eleanor and Marie. But in the first chapter, the queen rids the court of an ungainly, rustic Marie by installing her in a remote English convent, home to 20 starving nuns. The sisters hang the traveler’s clothes in the communal privy, where “the ammonia of the piss kills the beasties”—the lice. After a long sulk, Marie rouses herself to examine the abbey’s disastrous ledgers, mount her warhorse, and gallop forth to turn out the family most egregiously squatting on convent land. News spreads and the rents come in, “some grumbling but most half proud to have a woman so tough and bold and warlike and royal to answer to now.” The novel is at its best through Marie's early years of transforming the ruined, muddy convent, bit by bit, into a thriving estate, with a prosperous new scriptorium, brimming fields, and spilling flocks, protected by a forest labyrinth and spies abroad. In this way, Marie forestalls the jealous priests and village men plotting against her. Readers of Arcadia (2012), Groff’s brilliantly evocative hippie commune novel, will remember her gift for conjuring life without privacy. And she knows a snake always lurks within Eden. The cloister witnesses lust, sex, pregnancy, peril. Marie has visions of the Virgin Mary, 19 in all, but these passages stay flat. Medieval mystics, unsurprisingly, write better about mysticism. The gesture toward a lost theology based on Marie’s visions amounts to weak tea.

Groff’s trademarkworthy sentences bring vivid buoyancy to a magisterial story.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59463-449-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

more