It is marvelous, in every sense, to have a new Gayl Jones novel to talk about.

PALMARES

A legendary African American novelist returns with her first novel in 22 years, an epic adventure of enchantment, enslavement, and the pursuit of knowledge in 17th-century Brazil.

Jones' compelling narrator is Almeyda, an enslaved girl who learned to read and write not just in Portuguese, but in English and other languages. This gives her a wide perspective on her surroundings that allows her more curiosity and sophistication than other Blacks in bondage and, for that matter, many of the Whites holding dominion over her. Whether it’s the imperious Father Tollinare, a White priest partly responsible for Almeyda’s education, or her grandmother Ituiba, who seems irrational to just about everybody except Almeyda, the people who populate Almeyda’s tumultuous coming-of-age are as rife with mystery and complexity as the surrounding landscape with its dense forests, treacherous terrain, and wildly diverse human outposts. As Almeyda is sold to different masters and different plantations, her circle of acquaintances widens to include more exotic European visitors (including an eccentric lexicographer helping Tollinare publish a new Portuguese dictionary and a British travel writer packing some of Jane Austen’s gimlet wit) and many more Black and native Brazilians, some enslaved, some free; some cursed with delusions, touched by genius, or linked to sorcery. She finds love and liberation with a charismatic Muslim named Martim Anninho, whom she marries and accompanies to the novel’s (real-life) eponymous refuge for fugitive slaves. The community is besieged and then destroyed by war, and Almeyda, separated in the chaos from Anninho, embarks on a long and perilous mission to locate a “New Palmares” and find her husband. As with the most ambitious and haunting of magical realist sagas, Jones’ novel recounts detail after detail with such fluidity that the reader is aware of time’s passage without knowing how many years have gone by. And by this novel’s end, you’re made aware that there is far more of Almeyda’s and Anninho’s saga to come. Those familiar with Corregidora (1975) and Eva’s Man (1976) will not be surprised by the sustained intensity of both imagery and tone. There is also sheer wonder, insightful compassion, and droll wit to be found among the book’s riches. Jones seems to have come through a life as tumultuous as her heroine’s with her storytelling gifts not only intact, but enhanced and enriching.

It is marvelous, in every sense, to have a new Gayl Jones novel to talk about.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8070-3349-4

Page Count: 504

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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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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