Sharp, strange, propellant—and a whole lot of fun.

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LUSTER

After losing her day job, a troubled young artist finds herself living with her much-older lover, his inscrutable wife, and their adopted daughter in Leilani’s electric debut.

Edie meets Eric online: She's a 23-year-old Black art school dropout with a mouse-infested apartment in Bushwick and an ill-fitting administrative job at a children’s publishing imprint; he's a White archivist in an open marriage and twice her age. “The age discrepancy doesn’t bother me,” she explains, keenly aware of the dynamics of these types of exchanges, his stability and experience for the redemptive power of her youth. Of course, she has been curious about the wife, but it's only after Eric goes silent that she wanders into his unlocked house and comes face to face with Rebecca, who knows who she is and coolly invites her to stay for dinner. Afterward, Rebecca leaves her a voicemail: “I enjoyed meeting you, let’s do that again.” And so it begins. Newly fired from the publishing house for being “sexually inappropriate,” Edie is working for a delivery app when she gets an order for lobster bisque and a bone saw delivered to a VA hospital. The customer is Rebecca. The bone saw is because she’s a medical examiner. The reason Rebecca then takes Edie home with her…can’t be reduced into straightforward facts. Edie’s role in their household is perpetually tenuous and always unspoken: It is clear to her that she has been brought in, in part, “on the absurd presumption” she’d know what to do with their traumatized daughter, Akila, “simply because we are both black.” So she bonds with Akila. Sometimes, she cleans. She is neither Rebecca’s friend nor her rival. Regular envelopes with money appear on her dresser in irregular amounts, a cross between an allowance and a paycheck. And all the while, the dynamics among the four of them keep shifting, an unstable ballet of race, sex, and power. Leilani’s characters act in ways that often defy explanation, and that is part of what makes them so alive and so mesmerizing: Whose behavior, in real life, can be reduced to simple cause and effect?

Sharp, strange, propellant—and a whole lot of fun.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-19432-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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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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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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