A searingly moving picture of a personal, professional, and marital crackup.

PERMISSION

A burned-out writer hits rock bottom and eventually reinvents his life in this novel.

The narrator of Kristal’s tale leaves the slough of Los Angeles at the outset of the book in hopes of striking it big in the heyday of Ronald Reagan–era New York City. There, he lives the life of a high-profile freelance writer rubbing elbows with a seedy but glamorous set. “My friends were seldom writers or artists,” he reflects, “but rather a phylum of those I worked for: commodities traders, junk bond dealers, all of them arrogant, brainless, materialistic.” He also has a series of lovers, “high-strung girls, ferocious drinkers, all with hard, tiring jobs that owned a weird insubstantiality: focus group leaders, time buyers, food stylists.” Only belatedly do readers learn that the narrator has had a wife this whole time in New York, a woman who inherited a “blue-chip portfolio that paid enough in dividends to float a vie de la boheme; and the lack of a need to work had leached into the groundwater of her emotional conflict.” Despite her initial resistance (“I’m not leaving” becomes something of a refrain throughout the story), the narrator and his wife ultimately move back to LA, where the “consuming reality” is that everything had to sell, “and if people weren’t buying your thing, you bloody well fixed it until they did.” The narrator is nakedly ambitious. “God knows I wanted to make it,” he confesses. “I was dying to see a hideous flash picture of myself, snapped at an opening, on the back page of Variety.”

The return to LA precipitates many descents for the narrator and a key change in his wife’s life. She starts going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. But the narrator’s efforts in the script-doctoring business feel uninspired (“The work might lack originality,” he allows, “but one sustained a career and, no less valuably, a reputation”). And as his marriage dramatically tumbles into savage antagonism, the narrator falls into a $5,000-a-month addiction to sex workers and cocaine. Kristal writes this dramatic and seedy deterioration with incredible vibrancy and linguistic virtuosity (“Think of a December night,” goes one passage in which the narrator fondly remembers his initial experiences with cocaine, “when the crisp, clear air rings each streetlight with an aureole, the vodka pours thick and frigid and arrives in a crystal glass, when a woman’s smile is bright, her laugh musical, and every scrape and snap has a satisfying bite: cocaine at its best is all that”). The book’s protracted anatomy of drug- and alcohol-fueled deconstruction is immensely insightful and powerful. When the narrator complacently observes that “one cannot build a useful fiction on top of a destructive lie,” readers will genuinely wince at the self-delusion. And when he leaves his wife and meets a supportive woman named Jessica, those same readers will cheer. The dissection of a disintegrating marriage in these pages is unsettlingly vivid, as is the portrait of degradation brought on by addiction. The fact that the narrator somehow remains likable throughout is as remarkable as it is unexpected.

A searingly moving picture of a personal, professional, and marital crackup.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63988-111-6

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

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REMINDERS OF HIM

After being released from prison, a young woman tries to reconnect with her 5-year-old daughter despite having killed the girl’s father.

Kenna didn’t even know she was pregnant until after she was sent to prison for murdering her boyfriend, Scotty. When her baby girl, Diem, was born, she was forced to give custody to Scotty’s parents. Now that she’s been released, Kenna is intent on getting to know her daughter, but Scotty’s parents won’t give her a chance to tell them what really happened the night their son died. Instead, they file a restraining order preventing Kenna from so much as introducing herself to Diem. Handsome, self-assured Ledger, who was Scotty’s best friend, is another key adult in Diem’s life. He’s helping her grandparents raise her, and he too blames Kenna for Scotty’s death. Even so, there’s something about her that haunts him. Kenna feels the pull, too, and seems to be seeking Ledger out despite his judgmental behavior. As Ledger gets to know Kenna and acknowledges his attraction to her, he begins to wonder if maybe he and Scotty’s parents have judged her unfairly. Even so, Ledger is afraid that if he surrenders to his feelings, Scotty’s parents will kick him out of Diem’s life. As Kenna and Ledger continue to mourn for Scotty, they also grieve the future they cannot have with each other. Told alternatively from Kenna’s and Ledger’s perspectives, the story explores the myriad ways in which snap judgments based on partial information can derail people’s lives. Built on a foundation of death and grief, this story has an undercurrent of sadness. As usual, however, the author has created compelling characters who are magnetic and sympathetic enough to pull readers in. In addition to grief, the novel also deftly explores complex issues such as guilt, self-doubt, redemption, and forgiveness.

With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5420-2560-7

Page Count: 335

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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