Álvarez has written an unnervingly subtle and effective exploration of the cost of blind idealism on families.

THE FALLEN

A dreamlike yet insightful novel of a family and a country decaying from the inside.

Cuban writer Álvarez’s debut novel is slim yet contains remarkably detailed portraits of a family watching their country’s revolution creep toward failure in the 1990s. Diego, the son, is days away from completing his state-mandated military service. His mother, Mariana, is suffering from mysterious seizures that grip her without any notice. Armando, the patriarch, tries to manage a semiluxurious resort beset with corruption while also being hounded by party officials out for their own enrichment. And María, the daughter, is trying to care for her mother while also working at her father’s resort. The chapters alternate points of view among the family members, providing crystalline insights into each person’s experiences and the family’s overall dynamic. The characters narrate their own chapters and reflect on their lives and society around them. Armando, a stalwart supporter of Fidel and Che, laments the current state of Cuba: “...the hardest times are those when no one wants to do anything, times marked by a crisis of values, a spiritual simplemindedness, too little determination.” Armando, Mariana, Diego, and María all look to their pasts in order to understand the struggles of the present. The reader is pulled into a vivid story that’s tender yet never touches on sentimental. Instead, the book pulses with a vivid realism and humanity that is heightened by Wynne’s poetic translation. The country and the family are both afflicted with a malaise that has seeped into their bones and is hard to shake loose. Armando finds comfort by falling into a revolutionary idealism that fewer and fewer people believe in, Mariana’s seizures provide a perverse means of escape, Diego’s nightly patrols at the military base allow him to fall into the chasm of memory, and the pressures of running the family, if not the business, fall on María. Each member of the family, even the country itself, walks a fine line between happiness and dissolution.

Álvarez has written an unnervingly subtle and effective exploration of the cost of blind idealism on families.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64445-025-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

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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A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

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PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION

A travel writer has one last shot at reconnecting with the best friend she just might be in love with.

Poppy and Alex couldn't be more different. She loves wearing bright colors while he prefers khakis and a T-shirt. She likes just about everything while he’s a bit more discerning. And yet, their opposites-attract friendship works because they love each other…in a totally platonic way. Probably. Even though they have their own separate lives (Poppy lives in New York City and is a travel writer with a popular Instagram account; Alex is a high school teacher in their tiny Ohio hometown), they still manage to get together each summer for one fabulous vacation. They grow closer every year, but Poppy doesn’t let herself linger on her feelings for Alex—she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship or the way she can be fully herself with him. They continue to date other people, even bringing their serious partners on their summer vacations…but then, after a falling-out, they stop speaking. When Poppy finds herself facing a serious bout of ennui, unhappy with her glamorous job and the life she’s been dreaming of forever, she thinks back to the last time she was truly happy: her last vacation with Alex. And so, though they haven’t spoken in two years, she asks him to take another vacation with her. She’s determined to bridge the gap that’s formed between them and become best friends again, but to do that, she’ll have to be honest with Alex—and herself—about her true feelings. In chapters that jump around in time, Henry shows readers the progression (and dissolution) of Poppy and Alex’s friendship. Their slow-burn love story hits on beloved romance tropes (such as there unexpectedly being only one bed on the reconciliation trip Poppy plans) while still feeling entirely fresh. Henry’s biggest strength is in the sparkling, often laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue, particularly the banter-filled conversations between Poppy and Alex. But there’s depth to the story, too—Poppy’s feeling of dissatisfaction with a life that should be making her happy as well as her unresolved feelings toward the difficult parts of her childhood make her a sympathetic and relatable character. The end result is a story that pays homage to classic romantic comedies while having a point of view all its own.

A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0675-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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