This well-crafted and often serendipitous saga recognizes that family cannot be escaped but can be expanded.

NIGHT CAME WITH MANY STARS

Misfortunes and strokes of luck recur within a family over the course of generations, and sometimes, the universe connives to make the connecting thread hard to follow.

Drawing on themes from children's literature, Shakespeare, and T.S. Eliot, Van Booy traces the circular paths through time followed by one family in a series of moody—probably black-and-white—snapshots. As an uneducated young teen in impoverished 1930s rural Kentucky, Carol lives a life of privation and meanness with her widowed father. Escape of a sort comes when she is wagered away to her father’s poker buddy. But harm continues to accrue to Carol in countless brutal ways until her rescue by a trio of “outsiders.” Van Booy’s often poetic yet spare recounting of the events set in motion after Carol’s relinquishment covers the course of three generations in Carol’s family with nods to contemporary trends as well as an acknowledgement of the inevitability of the seasons of a lifetime. Cycles of racism, violence, and misogyny are disrupted by the grace-filled actions of friends, relatives, and strangers all making their ways through the same inhospitable environment. In the words of one of Carol’s unlikely saviors, everyone reaches a crossroads in life, where they can choose to take another way. The same sage observes that what you give in the world will be returned and what you take will be taken; these lessons, shared with Carol on a miserable ride to redemption, inform just about every action and interaction between and among the myriad characters Van Booy sets loose on the slowly revolving stage of rural, karmic destiny.

This well-crafted and often serendipitous saga recognizes that family cannot be escaped but can be expanded.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-56792-703-0

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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