A fresh collection marred by its author's insistence on provocation.

WHAT BURNS

A collection of inventive stories about queer life that is often too edgy for its own good.

Peck (Night Soil, 2018, etc.) returns with his first story collection, with tales that circle around questions of belonging, entrapment, violence, and the frustrated desire for intimacy. Most often Peck trains his attention on relationships between queer men, most of which are laced with melancholy if not outright misanthropy. In "The Law of Diminishing Returns," an American writer who's decamped to London struggles to attain intimacy when all he seems to attract are men who don't want to be in relationships with him. "I was one of those things that can be used only once," he worries. "People like Derek, I thought...they were able to have boyfriends and still find the time for trysts...whereas it was all I could manage to be someone's someone else." In the hilarious "Sky Writing," a man boards a flight and tells a college student sitting next to him the story of his doomed relationship with a wealthy capitalist, whose love requires him to travel around the world interminably; meanwhile, he pursues potential romance with a flight attendant. "Bliss" finds a young man sheltering the thug who murdered his mother, for reasons that no one—not even the man himself—can make sense of. Stories like these find Peck in fine, counterintuitive form, spinning fiction from the most unlikely and captivating premises, writing in a mode that rides the line between horror and erotica. When he allows himself to step out of his self-fashioned quirkiness the stories attain a level of emotional honesty that stuns. However, Peck too often falls prey to his own impulses toward provocation, resulting in stories that nauseate without much intellectual payoff. In "Not Even Camping Is Like Camping Anymore," a 5-year-old fixates on a teen boy in terms that are explicitly sexualized. Peck handles the subject more for laughs than thought, and the result is a story that plays into dangerous stereotypes about gay men. The collection's final two stories, "Summer Beam" parts one and two, end in a disgusting incident of misogynist violence that haunts, but only because it feels willfully mean-spirited and poorly plotted.

A fresh collection marred by its author's insistence on provocation.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64129-082-1

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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