An impressive and luminous assemblage of artful and quietly devastating tales.

PSEUDO

A Canadian author incorporates themes of loss, betrayal, redemption, and hope in this short story collection.

Having published numerous short story anthologies, Speak reaffirms her grasp of the form with 12 resonant tales. The brilliant, darkly comic opener and one of the book’s standouts, “Rock Paper Scissors,” is a master class in characterization. The story introduces Alice, 60, who, despite being divorced and depressed, anchors a rudderless, dysfunctional band of walking disasters. These include her unemployed adult son; her philandering boss; a daughter and fiance desperately struggling with artificial insemination; her infirm mother; and a dying boyfriend. It is a seemingly hopeless situation peopled by the downtrodden. This type of scenario surfaces in other tales like “Wilderness,” about a husband who prepares his dying wife for assisted suicide, and “Lake of Many Islands,” in which a group of friends assembles for a weekend of unexpected revelations. The engrossing title story features a disillusioned, aging artist abandoned by her partner only to discover a new love—one just as bruised by life as she is—waiting on her doorstep. The author’s prose is blissfully lyrical and often descriptively sets each tale’s tone in a single sentence. Impatient people beaten down by a winter season stomp across a snowy sidewalk “with the teeth of their winter boots, they have assaulted it with their demand for spring”; folks consumed with soul-searching do so with the passion of “a detective out to find a missing person”; first snowflakes are as “large as goose feathers turning in the air, perfect and pure.” Speak’s stories champion aging underdogs, many addled by disease or discontent, and throughout their grief or despair, she demonstrates an acute sensitivity to their plights. Into tales that could become overly sentimental, she injects redemption and sacrifice, as evidenced in the collection’s best-realized entry, “Honour,” leavening what seems like perennial hopelessness with glimmers of fun, renewal, and promise. The author rises to the challenge of compiling a group of Canada-set stories that will enchant with the beautiful, diverse, and ever evolving essence of human nature. As one character adores another’s wrinkles and sees “all the beauty life has wrought in her face,” readers will appreciate how Speak translates life’s pain and struggles into beauty.

An impressive and luminous assemblage of artful and quietly devastating tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-03-912298-7

Page Count: 348

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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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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A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

THE RAVAGED

This debut novel from Walking Dead actor Reedus follows three thematically connected yet narratively unrelated people as they journey to find themselves.

Hunter, a heavily tatted Iraq War vet and self-proclaimed gearhead, attacks his boss at the bike shop after catching him kicking a dog. “Hunter was old school,” the narrator says, rough-hewn but with strong moral fiber and a heart of gold. After learning his father died in a “mysterious house fire” in California, Hunter hops on his Buell S1 motorcycle alongside his buddies Nugget and Itch for a cross-country haul to execute the will. Meanwhile, a wealthy 65-year-old executive named Jack is mugged while traveling aimlessly through South America, neither the first nor the last of his hardships. Jack abandoned his cushy, bloodless office lifestyle after his dying mother told him to “run and never look back,” words he continuously labors to unpack. Finally, Anne, an abused teenage girl in Tennessee, steals her father’s savings and .38 revolver and runs away from home, clobbering her brother upside the head with a cast-iron skillet when he tries to stop her. She connects with her friend Trot, and they join a community of train-hoppers. Co-written by Bill, the story reads like a pastiche of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the latter of which is name-dropped as “great” by multiple characters. Though occasionally hitting some beautiful imagery of the American heartland, Reedus falls victim to implausible dialogue—“Fabiola, you are reading me like a stock report,” Jack says—and overcooked language: “flesh the color of a high-dollar medium-roast coffee bean.” Frequently wordy summaries do little to develop the thinly sketched characters; we know nearly as much about them on Page 25 as on Page 250.

A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-09-416680-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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