Incandescent writing illuminates one woman’s life in flames.

I LOVE YOU BUT I'VE CHOSEN DARKNESS

Reckless and defiantly intelligent, Watkins detonates the ties that bind.

An almost hallucinatory craft propels Watkins' fiction, starting with her ear for titles. Midbook, the reader learns that the narrator’s (doomed) teenage beau tattooed I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness across his collarbones, “with a period, as in end of discussion.” The narrator, named Claire Vaye Watkins, starts off in a garden of “mostly rock and dirt,” addressing four naked dolls. Awash in postpartum depression, she has bolted the Midwest for Nevada, leaving an infant daughter and a husband in her wake. She might be directing the title to her daughter, but it works equally well as a signoff from her own handsome, notorious father, Paul Watkins, “Charles Manson’s number one procurer of young girls.” Or from her mother, Martha, “an artist, a naturalist, a writer” who died alone, addicted to OxyContin. Watkins’ reckoning with her mother is breathtaking. “I went from being raised by a pack of coyotes,” she writes, “to a fellowship at Princeton where I sat next to John McPhee at a dinner and we talked about rocks and he wasn’t at all afraid of me.” Dark humor marbles these pages, and whether a reader finds it bracing or bratty may be a matter of temperament, or generation. Watkins breaks the rule of her open marriage by falling in love and, thinking of her husband, tells herself, “Do not say I just have to get this out of my system because I do not want it out.” Along this jagged way, Watkins spins a remarkable set piece as she gives a literary reading at a Reno high school. Mostly, she sifts the remnants of her desert family of origin, making it impossible to look away. Less successful are long excerpts of Martha’s teenage letters to a cousin, a wanly parallel coming-of-age. Still, when Watkins thanks both dead parents in her acknowledgements, the sincerity is a measure of rare storytelling capable of lifting them all from the wreckage.

Incandescent writing illuminates one woman’s life in flames.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-33021-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

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REMINDERS OF HIM

After being released from prison, a young woman tries to reconnect with her 5-year-old daughter despite having killed the girl’s father.

Kenna didn’t even know she was pregnant until after she was sent to prison for murdering her boyfriend, Scotty. When her baby girl, Diem, was born, she was forced to give custody to Scotty’s parents. Now that she’s been released, Kenna is intent on getting to know her daughter, but Scotty’s parents won’t give her a chance to tell them what really happened the night their son died. Instead, they file a restraining order preventing Kenna from so much as introducing herself to Diem. Handsome, self-assured Ledger, who was Scotty’s best friend, is another key adult in Diem’s life. He’s helping her grandparents raise her, and he too blames Kenna for Scotty’s death. Even so, there’s something about her that haunts him. Kenna feels the pull, too, and seems to be seeking Ledger out despite his judgmental behavior. As Ledger gets to know Kenna and acknowledges his attraction to her, he begins to wonder if maybe he and Scotty’s parents have judged her unfairly. Even so, Ledger is afraid that if he surrenders to his feelings, Scotty’s parents will kick him out of Diem’s life. As Kenna and Ledger continue to mourn for Scotty, they also grieve the future they cannot have with each other. Told alternatively from Kenna’s and Ledger’s perspectives, the story explores the myriad ways in which snap judgments based on partial information can derail people’s lives. Built on a foundation of death and grief, this story has an undercurrent of sadness. As usual, however, the author has created compelling characters who are magnetic and sympathetic enough to pull readers in. In addition to grief, the novel also deftly explores complex issues such as guilt, self-doubt, redemption, and forgiveness.

With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5420-2560-7

Page Count: 335

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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