Insidiously absorbing, like quicksand.

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THE DANGERS OF SMOKING IN BED

STORIES

Twelve gruesome, trenchant, and darkly winking stories set in modern-day Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Belgium.

One of the great advantages of genre fiction is its ability to use metaphor and distortion to explore realities that may otherwise feel too large or terrible to confront head-on. Enríquez, a journalist who grew up in Buenos Aires during Argentina's Dirty War—a trauma that echoes across these stories—is a pioneer of Argentinian horror and Spanish-language weird fiction, warping familiar settings (city parks, an office building, a stretch of neighborhood street) by wefting in the uncanny, supernatural, or monstrously human. Drawing on real places and events and spinning them out in fantastical ways, she disinters the darkness thrumming under the smooth, bureaucratized surface of urban life, exposing powerlessness, inequity, abuse, and erasure. Colonial Catholicism, pop culture, grotesquerie, and local legends intertwine in images of rotting flesh, altars that conceal their true nature, and ritual magic while themes of loss, fate, mental illness, state violence, fear and disdain for the other, and familial obligation—both the abnegation and upholding thereof—run throughout. In "Angelita Unearthed," a young woman lives with an unexpected burden of inherited grief. "Rambla Triste" introduces us to a woman visiting old friends in Barcelona who is soon confronted by a potent and inescapable reminder of the neighborhood's tragic, buried—and questionably authentic—past. In one firecracker, "Our Lady of the Quarry," a volatile mix of teenage vanity, jealousy, and rage leads to a summoning of dark powers and disproportionate revenge. And in the creepy and desolating "Kids Who Come Back," the lost, sold, and rejected children of Buenos Aires begin to return, sparking dubious joy out of even more dubious grief and exposing an entire populace steeped in guilt but determined to reject its culpability. As entertaining as it is affecting and channeled into English with almost clairvoyant percipience by translator McDowell, this is one not to be slept on for enthusiasts of weird fiction and literary horror and of writers like Samanta Schweblin, Amber Sparks, Ayse Papatya Bucak, and Carmen Maria Machado. An atmospheric assemblage of cunning and cutting Argentine gothic tales.

Insidiously absorbing, like quicksand.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13407-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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