Each story rings with wry, modern truth even as the characters are frustrated at every turn.

COOL FOR AMERICA

A collection of stories that document suburban angst and the burdens of being too young and too smart for your own good.

Martin has emerged as a leading chronicler of millennial ennui in contemporary America; his new collection includes two stories featuring Leslie, a character from his acclaimed debut novel, Early Work (2018). The 11 stories all feature young people struggling to find authentic connections to friends, family, work, and culture in a modern America not particularly interested in them or their opinions. The settings range across the United States, from Missoula to New York to suburban landscapes that could be just about anywhere. None of the protagonists are likable in a traditional sense, but they’re all trying to do their best in a time that feels like the twilight of an empire. The characters suffer from various anxieties, addictions, and maladies, but primary among the things that ail them is a cruel awareness that they’re not actually suffering. When thinking about her anxiety over the state of the world and politics, Cassie realizes that “the anxiety was tolerable. She could, to her relief and regret, live with it.” The protagonists of these stories know their suburban angst is, in reality, quite shallow, which just makes them feel worse. Each character suffers from the knowledge that no matter what they’re doing there’s something better and more satisfying out there somewhere. “The big problem that Leslie had, as far as she could tell, was that she was still, at twenty-seven, a person without well-established and verifiable thoughts or opinions about things.” She handles this feeling by drinking with friends and stumbling into relationships that leave all involved parties exhausted and puzzled. Martin’s writing, however, is as light and lively as his characters are frozen and hesitant. Frequently hilarious, Martin’s stories are insightful, and the characters are both truthful and authentic.

Each story rings with wry, modern truth even as the characters are frustrated at every turn.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-10816-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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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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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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