Nugent manages—the mark of the master satirist—to be simultaneously compassionate and ruthless. Splendid.

FRATERNITY

Nugent won the 2019 Terry Southern Award, Paris Review's annual prize for humor, and this collection of eight interconnected stories makes it easy to see why.

The comedy in Fraternity, as befits its subject, is dark, uncomfortable, even disturbing. The stories are set in a Massachusetts college town (clearly Amherst), and the focus is on young men who are in many ways the usual suspects: hearty-partying casual misogynists, macho tribalists, the toxically masculine. But Nugent understands that satire is a means not only of exposing or ridiculing its subject, but of making them, using the rules of their own skewed logic, understandable, even sympathetic. They're a varied group. There's the genuinely sweet, universally admired chapter president, Nutella, object of an unsanctioned desire in the brilliant opening story, "God" (and narrator of a subsequent story set years after he leaves college); there's Swordfish, whose atrocious sex-toy prank during an anti-rape march ends up bringing a wooden house mascot to demonic life in the magical-realist "Ollie the Owl"; there's Petey, the gung-ho frat officer who's always up for anything ("The Treasurer"); there's the thoughtful non-Greek freshman from Long Island (in the poignant "Cassiopeia") who comes to think of fraternities, despite an instinctive distaste for them, as a potential refuge from the anything-goes ethos of Amherst and wanders one night into a house where he has an utterly unexpected encounter; there are the idiot powers that be in "Hell" who, eager to concoct fresh humiliations for new pledges, invite an alumnus, a naval intelligence officer, to help them—and very soon find themselves contemplating deeper, darker types of initiation rituals than they'd intended. Nugent writes memorable women here, too: the title character in "God"; a wunderkind film director; the homeless, cocaine-selling dropout, Claire, who narrates the final story, "Safe Spaces." This is a book about the awkward, awful passage between adolescence and adulthood and about the way these unwary, ill-prepared boys negotiate it, or try not to.

Nugent manages—the mark of the master satirist—to be simultaneously compassionate and ruthless. Splendid.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-15860-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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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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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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