An elegantly written proof of the thesis that love conquers all—but not without considerable pain.

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JACK

A sometimes tender, sometimes fraught story of interracial love in a time of trouble.

“I have never heard of a white man who got so little good out of being a white man.” So chides Della Miles, upbraiding John Ames Boughton at the opening of Robinson’s latest novel, set in an unspecified time, though certainly one of legal racial segregation. Jack hails from Gilead, Iowa, where so many of Robinson’s stories are set, and he has a grave waiting there that he seems in a headlong rush to occupy. He drinks, he steals, he wanders, he’s a vagrant. Now he's in the Black part of St. Louis, an object of suspicion and concern, known locally as “That White Man That Keeps Walking Up and Down the Street All the Time.” Della is a schoolteacher, at home in Shakespeare and the classics. Jack is inclined to Milton. He is Presbyterian by birth, she Methodist and pious—but not so much that she can’t laugh when he calls himself the Prince of Darkness. Both are the children of ministers, both smart and self-aware, happy to argue about poetry and predestination in a Whites-only graveyard. The arguments continue, both playful and serious, as their love grows and as Jack tries his hand at the workaday world, wearing a tie and working a till—and, more important, not drinking. Pledged to each other like Romeo and Juliet, they suffer being parted more than they do having to deal with the disapproval of others, whether White or Black, though Della's father, aunt, brothers, and sister all separately tell Jack to leave her alone, and once, when Jack's landlady finds out that Della is Black, she demands that he leave. The reader will by this time doubtless be pulling for them, though also wondering how the proper Della puts up with the definitively scruffy Jack, even if it’s clear that they love each other without reservation. Robinson’s storytelling relies heavily on dialogue, moreso than her other work, and involves only a few scene changes, as if first sketched out as a play. The story flows swiftly—and without a hint of inevitability—as Robinson explores a favorite theme, “guilt and grace met together.”

An elegantly written proof of the thesis that love conquers all—but not without considerable pain.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-27930-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

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WE BEGIN AT THE END

A police chief who never grew up and a girl who never had a childhood try to solve the murder of someone they love.

A tiny, picturesque town on the California coast is an emotional prison for the characters of this impressive, often lyrical thriller. Its two main characters are a cop with an improbable naïveté and a child too old for her years. Walk (short for Walker, his last name) is chief of the two-person police department in Cape Haven and a native son. He’s kind and conscientious and haunted by a crime that occurred when he was a teenager, the death of a girl named Sissy Radley, whose body Walk discovered. Duchess Radley is that child’s niece, the daughter of Star Radley, the town’s doomed beauty. Most men lust after Star, including several of her neighbors and perhaps a sinister real estate developer named Dickie Darke. But Star is a substance abuser in a downward spiral, and her fatherless kids, Duchess and her younger brother, Robin, get, at best, Star’s benign neglect. Walk, who’s known Star since they were kids, is the family’s protector. As the book begins, all of them are coming to terms with the return to town of Vincent King. He’s Walk’s former best friend, Star’s former boyfriend, and he’s served a 30-year prison term for the death of Sissy (and that of a man he killed in prison). Someone will end up dead, and the murder mystery structures the book. But its core is Duchess, a rage-filled girl who is her brother’s tender, devoted caretaker, a beauty like her mother, and a fist-swinging fighter who introduces herself as “the outlaw Duchess Day Radley.” Whitaker crafts an absorbing plot around crimes in the present and secrets long buried, springing surprises to the very end.

A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-75966-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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