An enigmatic, elegant meditation on the end of civilization—if end it truly is.

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HARROW

A memorable return for renowned storyteller Williams after a lengthy absence from long-form fiction.

“Something definitely had gone wrong. Even the dead were dismayed.” Something has gone wrong indeed, but in her first novel in 20 years, Williams doesn’t reveal the precise contours of what that something is. There are portents at the outset as the young girl known first as Lamb, then as Khristen, contemplates a bit of family lore recounting that as a newborn she was resuscitated after having stopped breathing and, thus reborn, “was destined for something extraordinary.” So Khristen’s mother believes, in any event, sending her to a boarding school where, Khristen says, “my situation would be appreciated and the alarming gift I had been given properly acknowledged.” Instead, the school dries up, for by Khristen's third year there are no incoming students. Why? There’s no resolution in sight anywhere in Williams’ deliberately paced pre–post-apocalyptic novel: All the reader knows is that something is definitely off, signaled by such moments as when a fellow student, asked to contemplate an orange while pondering creativity, protests, “I haven’t tasted an orange in years.” Khristen takes her place in an odd community on a “razed resort” alongside a dying lake known as Big Girl, populated by the likes of a gifted, spooky 10-year-old and a Vicodin-swilling matriarch named Lola. If nothing else, the place has a working bowling alley, one good place to await doomsday. As the clock ticks away, Williams seeds her story with allusions to Kafka, bits of Greek mythology, philosophical notes on the nature of tragedy, and gemlike description (“He was in excellent physical condition, lean with rage”), and all along with subtly sardonic humor: Williams’ imagined world of the near future is so thoroughly corporatized that even the blades of wind turbines have advertisements on them, and she offers a useful phrase for obituaries to come: “What did he die of?” one character asks, meeting the reply: “Environmental issues.”

An enigmatic, elegant meditation on the end of civilization—if end it truly is.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-65756-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

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TO PARADISE

A triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093 explore the fate of humanity, the essential power and sorrow of love, and the unique doom brought upon itself by the United States.

After the extraordinary reception of Yanagihara's Kirkus Prize–winning second novel, A Little Life (2015), her follow-up could not be more eagerly awaited. While it is nothing like either of her previous novels, it's also unlike anything else you've read (though Cloud Atlas, The House of Mirth, Martin and John, and Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy may all cross your mind at various points). More than 700 pages long, the book is composed of three sections, each a distinct narrative, each set in a counterfactual historical iteration of the place we call the United States. The narratives are connected by settings and themes: A house on Washington Square in Greenwich Village is central to each; Hawaii comes up often, most prominently in the second. The same names are used for (very different) characters in each story; almost all are gay and many are married. Even in the Edith Wharton–esque opening story, in which the scion of a wealthy family is caught between an arranged marriage and a reckless affair, both of his possible partners are men. Illness and disability are themes in each, most dramatically in the third, set in a brutally detailed post-pandemic totalitarian dystopia. Here is the single plot connection we could find: In the third part, a character remembers hearing a story with the plot of the first. She mourns the fact that she never did get to hear the end of it: "After all these years I found myself wondering what had happened....I knew it was foolish because they weren't even real people but I thought of them often. I wanted to know what had become of them." You will know just how she feels. But what does it mean that Yanagihara acknowledges this? That is just one of the conundrums sure to provoke years of discussion and theorizing. Another: Given the punch in the gut of utter despair one feels when all the most cherished elements of 19th- and 20th-century lives are unceremoniously swept off the stage when you turn the page to the 21st—why is the book not called To Hell?

Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54793-2

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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