A gripping drama of the conflict between love and destiny.

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HAMNET

Imagining the life of the family Shakespeare left behind in Stratford makes an intriguing change of pace for a veteran storyteller.

While O’Farrell eschews the sort of buried-secrets plots that drive the propulsive narratives of such previous novels as Instructions for a Heatwave (2013), her gifts for full-bodied characterization and sensitive rendering of intricate family bonds are on full display. She opens with 11-year-old Hamnet anxiously hovering over his twin sister, Judith, who has a mysterious fever and ominous swellings. When Hamnet asks his grandfather where his mother is, the old man strikes him, and as the novel moves through the characters’ memories, we see the role John Shakespeare’s brutality played in son Will’s departure for London. The central figure in this drama is Shakespeare’s wife, Agnes, better known to history as Anne, recipient of the infamous second-best-bed bequest in his will. O’Farrell chooses an alternate name—spelling was not uniform in Elizabethan times—and depicts Agnes as a woman whose profound engagement with the natural world drew young Will to her from their first meeting. The daughter of a reputed sorceress, Agnes has a mysterious gift: She can read people’s natures and foresee their futures with a single touch. She sees the abilities within Will that are being smothered as a reluctant Latin tutor and inept participant in his father’s glove trade, and it is Agnes who deftly maneuvers John into sending him away. She believes she will join Will soon, but Judith’s frailty forestalls this. O’Farrell draws us into Agnes’ mixed emotions as the years go by and she sees Will on his increasingly infrequent visits “inhabiting it—that life he was meant to live, that work he was intended to do.” Hamnet’s death—bitterly ironic, as he was always the stronger twin—drives the couple farther apart, and news of a new play called Hamlet sends Agnes to London in a rage. O’Farrell’s complex, moving finale shows her watching the performance and honoring her husband’s ability to turn their grief into art.

A gripping drama of the conflict between love and destiny.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65760-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

APPLES NEVER FALL

Australian novelist Moriarty combines domestic realism and noirish mystery in this story about the events surrounding a 69-year-old Sydney woman’s disappearance.

Joy and Stan Delaney met as champion tennis players more than 50 years ago and ran a well-regarded tennis academy until their recent retirement. Their long, complicated marriage has been filled with perhaps as much passion for the game of tennis as for each other or their children. When Joy disappears on Feb. 14, 2020 (note the date), the last text she sends to her now-grown kids—bohemian Amy, passive Logan, flashy Troy, and migraine-suffering Brooke—is too garbled by autocorrect to decipher and stubborn Stan refuses to accept that there might be a problem. But days pass and Joy remains missing and uncharacteristically silent. As worrisome details come to light, the police become involved. The structure follows the pattern of Big Little Lies (2014) by setting up a mystery and then jumping months into the past to unravel it. Here, Moriarty returns to the day a stranger named Savannah turned up bleeding on the Delaneys’ doorstep and Joy welcomed her to stay for an extended visit. Who is Savannah? Whether she’s innocent, scamming, or something else remains unclear on many levels. Moriarty is a master of ambiguity and also of the small, telling detail like a tossed tennis racket or the repeated appearance of apple crumble. Starting with the abandoned bike that's found by a passing motorist on the first page, the evidence that accumulates around what happened to Joy constantly challenges the reader both to notice which minor details (and characters) matter and to distinguish between red herrings and buried clues. The ultimate reveal is satisfying, if troubling. But Moriarty’s main focus, which she approaches from countless familiar and unexpected angles, is the mystery of family and what it means to be a parent, child, or sibling in the Delaney family—or in any family, for that matter.

Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-22025-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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As one of Whitehead’s characters might say of their creator, When you’re hot, you’re hot.

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HARLEM SHUFFLE

After winning back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes for his previous two books, Whitehead lets fly with a typically crafty change-up: a crime novel set in mid-20th-century Harlem.

The twin triumphs of The Underground Railroad (2016) and The Nickel Boys (2019) may have led Whitehead’s fans to believe he would lean even harder on social justice themes in his next novel. But by now, it should be clear that this most eclectic of contemporary masters never repeats himself, and his new novel is as audacious, ingenious, and spellbinding as any of his previous period pieces. Its unlikely and appealing protagonist is Ray Carney, who, when the story begins in 1959, is expecting a second child with his wife, Elizabeth, while selling used furniture and appliances on Harlem’s storied, ever bustling 125th Street. Ray’s difficult childhood as a hoodlum’s son forced to all but raise himself makes him an exemplar of the self-made man to everybody but his upper-middle-class in-laws, aghast that their daughter and grandchildren live in a small apartment within earshot of the subway tracks. Try as he might, however, Ray can’t quite wrest free of his criminal roots. To help make ends meet as he struggles to grow his business, Ray takes covert trips downtown to sell lost or stolen jewelry, some of it coming through the dubious means of Ray’s ne’er-do-well cousin, Freddie, who’s been getting Ray into hot messes since they were kids. Freddie’s now involved in a scheme to rob the Hotel Theresa, the fabled “Waldorf of Harlem," and he wants his cousin to fence whatever he and his unsavory, volatile cohorts take in. This caper, which goes wrong in several perilous ways, is only the first in a series of strenuous tests of character and resources Ray endures from the back end of the 1950s to the Harlem riots of 1964. Throughout, readers will be captivated by a Dickensian array of colorful, idiosyncratic characters, from itchy-fingered gangsters to working-class women with a low threshold for male folly. What’s even more impressive is Whitehead’s densely layered, intricately woven rendering of New York City in the Kennedy era, a time filled with both the bright promise of greater economic opportunity and looming despair due to the growing heroin plague. It's a city in which, as one character observes, “everybody’s kicking back or kicking up. Unless you’re on top.”

As one of Whitehead’s characters might say of their creator, When you’re hot, you’re hot.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54513-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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