Without pyrotechnics, Petterson brings his characters and working-class Norway vividly, even passionately, to life; days...

I REFUSE

Norwegian Petterson (It’s Fine By Me, 2012, etc.) shows his considerable gift for exploring the darker crevices of boyhood in this elegiac story of two long-estranged friends whose lives have not turned out as they expected.

In 2006, Tommy and Jim speak briefly on a bridge in Oslo where Jim is fishing and Tommy is driving his Mercedes. While Tommy is a successful if lonely businessman, emotionally fragile Jim has not worked at his job at the Oslo Libraries for a year, and his sick leave has run out. More than 30 years ago, the two were best friends growing up together in the working-class neighborhood of Mørk. Back then, Jim—raised by his devoted single mom, who taught religion and instilled in Jim the belief that “you had to make yourself worthy”—seemed headed for success. Tommy’s childhood was a disaster—after his mother’s disappearance in 1964, his father abused his three younger sisters until 13-year-old Tommy attacked him with a bat and his father disappeared, too. The children were sent to different homes. While living with kindly neighbor Jonsen, Tommy tried to maintain a bond with his sister Siri, although her heavily Christian new parents considered him a bad influence. In adolescence, Siri was no longer close to Tommy but began a romance with Jim when he started attending her high school. The triangular connections became complicated, but all three had a sweetness and innocence about them. Then one afternoon Jim had a moment of what he considered cowardice while skating with Tommy and never forgave himself. Going about what turns into a trying day for each in 2006, both middle-aged men are drawn back to memories of that earlier time and each other, exposing how the scars from their (and Siri’s) pasts formed them. Don’t expect redemption here, but hope for connection.

Without pyrotechnics, Petterson brings his characters and working-class Norway vividly, even passionately, to life; days after they finish the novel, readers may still have dreams of ice cracking.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-55597-699-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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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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