A welcome gathering of centrifugal works by one of Mexico’s most accomplished contemporary writers.

THREE NOVELS

The Mexican postmodernist, heir in equal parts to Cormac McCarthy and Juan Rulfo, delivers a hallucinatory study of his country in this omnibus.

Herrera shuns proper names of people and places: Mexico City is the “Big Chilango,” characters bear names such as the Artist, the Witch, and Mr. Q. His ghostly landscapes are reminiscent of Rulfo’s in the iconic novel Pedro Páramo, but his characters are even more ethereal. Many are up to no good, delivering packages whose contents we can only guess at, trying to avoid falling into vast sinkholes and the jails of La Migra. The bad guys speak as if in a Peckinpah film; says one, before putting a hole in a wobbly drunk, “I don’t think you heard a thing. You know why? Because dead men have very poor hearing.” One of Herrera’s central preoccupations is with finding a language to convey the strangeness of our time and, failing that, falling into silence. That language can be knotted and slangy, as when a character called the Girl says in the first novel, Kingdom Cons, “It’s amped here, singer, it’s trick as shit; man, it’s all sauce; it’s wicked, slick, I mean this place is tight; people here come from everywhere and everybody’s down.” The other two novels in this loosely knit trilogy, Signs Preceding the End of the World and The Transmigration of Bodies (the latter a neat play on the Catholic concept of the transmigration of souls and playing again on the dangerous border between two nameless nations), are published in the order in which Herrera wrote them. They’re even more powerful read together, with their nightmare scenes of a Mexican boy who, as in the Civil War, steps in to do military service in the U.S. for a rich kid and of nouveau-drug-rich people who remain in their poor neighborhood: “they just added locks and doors and stories and a shit-ton of cement to their houses, one with more tile than the other.”

A welcome gathering of centrifugal works by one of Mexico’s most accomplished contemporary writers.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-913505-24-0

Page Count: 376

Publisher: And Other Stories

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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