A deliciously creepy book.

REALITY AND OTHER STORIES

In the spirit—a word used advisedly—of M.R. James, British novelist Lanchester delivers a splendidly eerie suite of stories.

The opening story in Lanchester’s collection, “Signal,” sets the tone nicely. A college friend of the narrator’s, who has grown unimaginably wealthy (“The driveway of Michael’s big house was so long that even after we got there it took a while to get there”), can buy everything he wants except a decent Wi-Fi signal. Enter the spectral image of a tall man in a household full of short ones—one, a Bolivian, is a comparative giant back home among “the second-shortest people in the world,” but barely qualifies here—who, it appears, is still trying to get a reliable connection from the spirit world. In “Coffin Liquor,” whose title comes, Lanchester’s narrator explains, from “the liquefaction of improperly preserved corpses,” modern vampirism meets the still more dreadful prospect of an academic conference. Wi-Fi figures into it, and so, in a Groundhog Day sort of trope, does Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, all culminating in a psychiatrist’s weary assessment of the protagonist as someone suffering a psychosis with “the most florid manifestations.” One character is imprisoned in a dungeon straight out of Poe, another philosophically explores the question of whether we’re not ambulatory critters but instead “a brain in a vat” before being interrupted by a trope from the book of Revelation, still another snipes that the one book he can’t stand teaching is Lord of the Flies, since “glasses with prescriptions for short-sight cannot be used to start a fire in the manner that Piggy’s spectacles are.” It wouldn’t be a set of supernatural stories without at least one in which a painting comes to life, though, true to form, Lanchester brings in a selfie stick as part of the malevolent furnishings, to say nothing of a swarm of icky maggots.

A deliciously creepy book.

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-54091-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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