A rich book to be read slowly and thoughtfully, from a writer too little known today.

ANNIVERSARIES

FROM A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF GESINE CRESSPAHL

Das war es denn wohl. That takes care of that.” An overstuffed masterwork of late European modernism by German writer Johnson (1934-1984).

Hailed by Günter Grass as the most significant East German writer, Johnson left his homeland in 1959, dying at the age of 49 in England. From 1966 to 1968, though, he lived in New York, where he wrote the tetralogy called Jahrestage. Likened to Joyce’s Ulysses, it’s really a kind of Joseph Cornell box in words, a vast montage stretching from August 1967 to August 1968. The narrator, Gesine Cresspahl, lives in self-exile on the Upper West Side, working as a translator, trying to raise a daughter, Marie, by herself. Gesine is too young to have been complicit in the crimes of the Third Reich, but she saw them unfold, enabled by those who stood by, some of whose uniforms have merely changed colors in the years since the war ended even as other things have remained the same. The Levy’s Jewish rye ads on the New York subway, for instance, bear ominous signs of old: “There tend to be swastikas drawn on these posters,” remarks Gesine after reflecting on both a moment of wartime history and the opening of baseball season. “It’s true that they aren’t drawn correctly…but tonight I saw one more of them than I did this morning.” Past feeds into present and flows backward as Gesine travels in time and space to places like New Orleans and San Francisco in a time of torment. She sighs, “This summer is over, it’s now our future past, that’s what we can expect from life.” Her diary—which is to say, Johnson’s nearly 2,000-page novel—touches on Vietnam, World War II, postwar Eastern Europe, the inhumane conditions of that New York subway system and the humanity of its riders ("Marie was always given a greater amount of breathing room than she needed”), the triumph of despair, and countless other topics.

A rich book to be read slowly and thoughtfully, from a writer too little known today.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68137-203-7

Page Count: 1720

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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THE GREAT ALONE

In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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