In a quietly poignant story, a lonely woman finds a way to be less alone.

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TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM

A scientist weighs the big questions that her private trauma bequeaths her.

After Homegoing (2016) swept through seven generations, Gyasi’s wise second novel pivots toward intimacy. It unspools entirely in the voice of watchful, reticent, brilliant Gifty, 28, nearly finished with her doctorate in neuroscience at Stanford’s School of Medicine. Her formidable mother, a home health care aide, has plummeted into a second severe depression, and their family pastor has dispatched the limp woman toward Gifty via airplane from Huntsville, Alabama, “folding her up the way you would a jumpsuit.” The first episode, when Gifty was 11, arrived after an opiate overdose stole the life of 16-year-old Nana, the firstborn son and more cherished child. Both times the Ghanaian matriarch has crawled mutely into bed, but this time not before asking adult Gifty if she still prays. “No,” says Gifty, who turns her ontological questions on lab mice. She gets them addicted to Ensure and then opens their brains surgically, probing the neural pathways of recklessness, looking for clues to creating restraint. Gifty hopes to apply her results to “the species Homo Sapiens, the most complex animal, the only animal who believed he had transcended his Kingdom, as one of my high school biology teachers used to say.” This work, Gifty insists, has zero to do with her brother’s death. In 54 microchapters and precise prose, Gyasi creates an ache of recognition, especially for readers knowledgeable about the wreckage of addiction. Still, she leavens this nonlinear novel with sly humor, much more than in Homegoing, as the daughter of a traditional woman weighs what it means to walk in the world not quite a nonbeliever. The author is astute about childhood grandiosity and a pious girl’s deep desire to be good; she conveys in brief strokes the notched, nodding hook of heroin’s oblivion. In its wake, adult Gifty sits with the limits of both bench science and evangelical Christianity. Nowhere does Gyasi take a cheap shot. Instead, she writes a final chapter that gives readers a taste of hard-won deliverance.

In a quietly poignant story, a lonely woman finds a way to be less alone.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65818-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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