A pleasant romp deepened by its insights into character.

VAMP UNTIL READY

A precise, affectionate collection of linked stories follows the lives of several “townies” in Ithaca, New York, from 1980 through 1992.

Magruder—playwright, translator, and author of Let Me See It (2014)—begins from the point of view of Cary Dunkler, who, having graduated from high school a few years ago, is spinning his wheels working at the Army-Navy store selling “Belgian knapsacks and the world's scratchiest socks.” His foster brother, Dave, who has just graduated after attending Cornell on a full scholarship, convinces Cary to try out for the local Hangar Summer Theatre, where Dave's boyfriend, Gavin, is the artistic director. While Cary may not be a natural at musical theater, the job does net him a “showmance,” propels his life in an unexpected direction, and leads him years later to “claim that his life before the Hangar gig had just been vamping until ready.” With Cary's summer over, Magruder jumps a couple of years forward, into the points of view of Cary's co-worker Kristy, a minor character in the first section, and her children's babysitter, Isa, a theatre major at Ithaca College who become involved with both that year's season at the Hangar and with Kristy's disreputable ex-husband, Wayne, a “hazel-eyed, cigarette-ad charmer.” The next two stories jump again in time and into the lives of two previously minor characters before the book circles back to Cary in the final story. It's a tour de force performance, charming and unstrained, in which changes taking place offstage magically reset the narrative, and where the theater, with its state of “perpetual panic,” and Ithaca, with its “sprouty culture,” play roles as important as any character.

A pleasant romp deepened by its insights into character.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-955826-00-6

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Rattling Good Yarns Press

Review Posted Online: July 28, 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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