An intelligently executed love letter to Black female empowerment and the world of rock music.

THE FINAL REVIVAL OF OPAL & NEV

A fictional history of a 1970s Black rock singer with a complicated past.

Sunny has just been named the new editor-in-chief of the storied music magazine Aural—the first Black person and woman to hold the position—when a scoop falls into her lap. It’s 2015, and Opal Jewel, “the ebony-skinned provocateur, the fashion rebel, the singer/screecher/Afro-Punk ancestor,” is contemplating a reunion tour with her old musical partner, Nev Charles, an Englishman who’s since embarked on a successful solo career; Opal herself hasn’t performed live in more than 25 years. Sunny begins writing a book—this book, an oral history of Opal and Nev’s brief but iconic collaboration during the early '70s—and focuses particularly on the disastrous 1971 concert in which a racist mob kills Opal and Nev’s drummer, a Black man named Jimmy Curtis. Sunny’s interest in the story is more than merely professional: Curtis, she discloses in an "Editor’s Note" at the very beginning of the book, was her father—and Opal his mistress while Sunny’s mother was married to Curtis and pregnant with her. Nevertheless, the first section of the book bears all the hallmarks of a rigorously reported work of journalism. Sunny interviews everyone from the label’s receptionist to Opal’s stylist and stitches together quotes to form a multifaceted narrative of Opal and Nev’s rise. But as Sunny reconstructs the events leading up to her father’s death, she hears something that changes the story she thought she knew—and forces her to shed her protective, professional shell. Debut author Walton wields the oral history form with easy skill, using its suggestion of conversation and potential for humor to give her characters personality. “But also Virgil sold reefer. Everybody loves the reefer man,” Sunny quotes Opal saying about her stylist. Immediately after: “VIRGIL LAFLEUR: I styled ladies’ hair. That’s how I paid my bills. I don’t know what she’s told you.” And the author adeptly captures the particular tenor of discussions of race in the early '70s (Opal’s destruction of a Confederate flag sets off the fateful riot) and in the age of memes: The creator of one Opal GIF, Sunny muses, “understood the culture and the language and this current moment of Black exasperation, and was nodding to the eerie relevance of Opal Jewel in them.”

An intelligently executed love letter to Black female empowerment and the world of rock music.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982140-16-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: 37 Ink/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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