Beautifully crafted and slyly unsettling.

THE RESISTERS

Subtle dystopian fiction from the author of World and Town (2010).

It’s the not-too-distant future, and the United States has become AutoAmerica. The citizenry has been divided into the Netted and the Surplus. The job of the former is to rule, while the primary function of the latter is to consume. These are new social classes, but, as Grant, the narrator, notes, they look a lot like the old social classes. The Netted are “angelfair.” Grant is “coppertoned,” and his services as a professor are no longer needed. Eleanor, his “spy-eyed” wife, is still practicing law, though, mostly fighting on behalf of the oppressed; when the novel begins, she has just been released from prison. What's most remarkable about the worldbuilding here is that the sense of horror that suffuses so much dystopian fiction is absent. Grant’s tone is wryly matter-of-fact—perhaps because, as a dark-skinned person, he never took the freedoms and opportunities he once had for granted. And, really, the totalitarian country he describes is entirely believable. It’s not the product of a single cataclysmic event. It is, instead, the result of a million seemingly inconsequential actions, the cumulative effect of citizens giving away little pieces of their agency every time they choose convenience over autonomy. But life changes for Grant’s family when the government decides to resurrect the sport of baseball, because it happens that his daughter, Gwen, is a pitching prodigy who has spent her childhood honing her skills in an underground league. Baseball offers a way out and up for Gwen, but she’s not sure that what she would gain is more valuable than what she would have to leave behind. The juxtaposition of America’s pastime and the AI–enabled surveillance state Jen presents here is brilliant. Sports are a classic national obsession as well as an avenue to fame and success for the disenfranchised. In this sense, Gwen’s story feels familiar, and the ease with which the reader identifies with this narrative helps to make everything else about AutoAmerica seem eerily familiar, too. We recognize the world Jen creates because it is, finally, nearly identical to our own.

Beautifully crafted and slyly unsettling.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65721-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more