A zesty tale that balances darkness and light with aplomb.

THE REEF

A powerful morality tale with laughs.

This is award-winning Mexican writer Villoro's first novel to be translated into English. While his story collection, The Guilty (2015), displayed his postmodernist leanings, this novel, originally published in 2012, showcases his edgy black humor and absurdist side. Meet Tony Góngora, our laid-back, heavy-drinking narrator, a 53-year-old former rock musician. (Picture a Mexican sort-of version of the Dude, Jeff Bridges' character from The Big Lebowski.) He's lost part of a finger and limps, and due to extensive drug use, he's also lost part of his memory, which he’s trying to get back. He builds and runs underwater sound systems for aquariums at The Pyramid resort in Kukulcán, on the Caribbean coast. It and other resorts, now vacant, rise up “along the shore like vertical mausoleums, circled by seagulls and ravaged by plants and rats.” The sand’s washing away. Oil rigs and city water have contaminated the sea and are now threatening “the second-largest coral reef in the world.” Thanks to manager Mario Müller, Tony’s friend and fellow ex–band member, and investor El Gringo Peterson, The Pyramid is hanging on because of its unique tourist offerings. Now a “Sodom with piña coladas,” it provides “extreme tourism.” Guests can experience “recreational paranoia” like fake kidnappings and other controlled dangers. Tony has the hots for Sandra, an illegal immigrant from Iowa who works there as a yoga/kung fu instructor. Then Ginger Oldenville, one of the resort’s diving instructors, turns up dead—shot in the back with a spear gun. In this warped utopia, the death loomed “like the black cloud of an approaching hurricane.” Villoro mixes genres (noirish murder mystery, eco-thriller) to fashion a wickedly satirical romp of Mexico as a “country of enormous delusions.” But that’s not all. It’s also a thoughtful tale of friendship and love.

A zesty tale that balances darkness and light with aplomb.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-80760-021-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Braziller

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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