An earnest if overzealous examination of the side effects of technology on humanity.

THE PROFESSOR OF IMMORTALITY

Adrift in her personal life and career, a professor of future studies discovers that an ex-student might be a homegrown terrorist—and that she too might have skin in the game.

In 1996, the FBI ended one of the longest manhunts in its history by arresting Theodore Kaczynski, a Harvard-educated math genius, who railed against the ill effects of technology and systematically mailed bombs to select targets across the United States to underscore his point. More than two decades on, the drumbeat about the perceived dark side of technology has only become louder. It makes sense then that Pollack (The Bible of Dirty Jokes, 2018, etc.) uses the Unabomber as the scaffolding for this novel, which unfolds primarily through the lens of Maxine Sayers, Director of the Institute of Future Studies at the University of Michigan. Max has lost her husband (and fellow professor), Sam, who has been dead for eight years, and her engineer son, Zach, who once worked for a Silicon Valley startup and has gone off the grid and cut off contact with Mom. What’s worse, funding for the institute that Maxine Kickstarted is drying up. Against this backdrop, she reads a “Technobomber’s” manifesto and worries that the author sounds like one of her former students. As Max unravels the various layers, she and her family get sucked into the maelstrom created by the Technobomber’s sensationalism. Maxine too is ambivalent about technology, and the plot sags under the weight of her frequent expositions: “If intelligence meant an awareness of one’s self, how could a machine become aware? Of what? That it had no self to be aware of?” Stilted similes—“The eighteen-year-olds who make up the majority of Ann Arbor’s population are like stem cells: put any two in a petri dish, squirt on nutrient solution, and each will take on the characteristics of the other”—don’t help the cause, either. The straitjacketed characters miss emerging into their true selves. Perhaps the narrative would have been better served as a short story than a full-fledged novel.

An earnest if overzealous examination of the side effects of technology on humanity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-883285-82-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Delphinium

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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