A linked-story collection done right, with sensitive and complex characters each looking for a place to call home.

FIGHT NO MORE

Real estate—and the anxiety and disruption that often come with moving house—drives this linked collection of Los Angeles–set tales.

Millet has used broken relationships as a launchpad for austere, absurdist fiction (Magnificence, 2012; Sweet Lamb of Heaven, 2016) and laugh-out-loud farce (Mermaids in Paradise, 2014). Here, her attack is more compassionate and realistic, but she can still bring the weird: In one story, a woman believes her home is being overrun by “handyman midgets” who arrive unsolicited to make repairs; how much of this is real and how much is the panicked vision of a woman who’s just been abandoned by her husband is intentionally vague. The central (and more grounded) figure in these stories is Nina, a real estate agent who must bear witness to the vicissitudes and cruelties of her clients: the famous musician who tries to drown himself in the pool of one home; the rebellious teen determined to force potential buyers to witness unmistakable evidence of his masturbatory habits; the wealthy, arrogant man who’s led his mistress to believe she’s his fiancee. Nina herself can’t find a professional distance from these shenanigans, falling for a member of the musician’s entourage in a relationship that ends tragically. Changing homes brings out our generosity and monstrousness in equal measure, Millet seems to suggest, an idea she explores most potently in a trio of stories featuring Lexie, a teenage sex worker whose safe job as an au pair is threatened by her sexually abusive stepfather. Those stories are especially strong because Millet so readily shifts point of view—by turns she can be a snotty rich kid, a pedophile, and a lower-class cam girl striving to rise above her station. And though Millet has never been much for easy uplift, the collection ends with the sense that our lives can find some kind of order if we acknowledge the forces that disrupt them.

A linked-story collection done right, with sensitive and complex characters each looking for a place to call home.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63548-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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