An exuberant, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink pleasure.

THE BLIZZARD PARTY

From acclaimed story writer Livings, a first novel that might be called a detour de force: sprawling, discursive, loose-limbed (and impressive).

Our narrator is Hazel Saltwater, daughter of a renowned and prodigiously phobic writer. At 6, she was the still center in the drugged-out maelstrom of a bash held by neighbors in the Apelles, her family's grand Upper West Side apartment building, on the snowy night of Feb. 6, 1978. While watching TV in a back bedroom, Hazel made the peculiar acquaintance of Albert Caldwell, an elderly ex-lawyer who, having confirmed his descent into dementia, earlier in the evening had staged an emergency, slipped away from the hospital, and stolen and crashed a cab on his way to drown himself in the Hudson River. Albert was interrupted in this plot by Vikram, a boy—later Hazel's husband—who delivered him back home to the Apelles and, it turns out, a yet more spectacular fate. That fate became the germ of Hazel's father's most famous book, which starred a fictional version of Hazel. The book we're reading, it soon emerges, is Hazel's own four-decades-later reconstruction of that night, which she treats as a Rosetta Stone to unlock every secret and explore every connection in her life before and since—and in the lives of all those constellated around her. The book ranges with supreme confidence from its titular setting to World War II Europe, 9/11, and beyond. Livings' nearest model may be the doorstop-sized novels of Tom Wolfe...and this book is similarly digressive, maximalist, and prone to old-fashioned manipulations of sentiment. Livings may not quite have Wolfe's journalistic chops, but he's a far more skillful and empathetic novelist, and what seems moralistic and preening in Wolfe's books reads here mostly as playful and nimble, if mildly self-indulgent. One may wonder why a first-time novelist in 2020 would follow the Wolfe/Balzac template for the Novel of Everything...but the fact is that Livings, amazingly, pulls it off.

An exuberant, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink pleasure.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-3742-8053-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

THE RAVAGED

This debut novel from Walking Dead actor Reedus follows three thematically connected yet narratively unrelated people as they journey to find themselves.

Hunter, a heavily tatted Iraq War vet and self-proclaimed gearhead, attacks his boss at the bike shop after catching him kicking a dog. “Hunter was old school,” the narrator says, rough-hewn but with strong moral fiber and a heart of gold. After learning his father died in a “mysterious house fire” in California, Hunter hops on his Buell S1 motorcycle alongside his buddies Nugget and Itch for a cross-country haul to execute the will. Meanwhile, a wealthy 65-year-old executive named Jack is mugged while traveling aimlessly through South America, neither the first nor the last of his hardships. Jack abandoned his cushy, bloodless office lifestyle after his dying mother told him to “run and never look back,” words he continuously labors to unpack. Finally, Anne, an abused teenage girl in Tennessee, steals her father’s savings and .38 revolver and runs away from home, clobbering her brother upside the head with a cast-iron skillet when he tries to stop her. She connects with her friend Trot, and they join a community of train-hoppers. Co-written by Bill, the story reads like a pastiche of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the latter of which is name-dropped as “great” by multiple characters. Though occasionally hitting some beautiful imagery of the American heartland, Reedus falls victim to implausible dialogue—“Fabiola, you are reading me like a stock report,” Jack says—and overcooked language: “flesh the color of a high-dollar medium-roast coffee bean.” Frequently wordy summaries do little to develop the thinly sketched characters; we know nearly as much about them on Page 25 as on Page 250.

A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-09-416680-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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