Fiction, January 18, 2019 | Xpress Reviews

Readers of Borges, Cortázar or Vila-Matas will embrace the unconventional narration; Kenney delivers a deep tale that balances wit with human folly; a solid melding of sf and thriller; highly recommended for fans of Paula Hawkins and B.A. Paris

Week ending January 18, 2019

 redstar Fernández Mallo, Agustín. The Nocilla Trilogy: Nocilla Dream; Nocilla Experience; Nocilla Lab. 3 vols. Farrar. Jan. 2019. NAp. tr. from Spanish by Thomas Bunstead. ISBN 9780374222789. pap. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780374718244. F
Defying adequate genre classification, this “docu-fiction” is a hybrid of the real (including verbatim passages from a wide range of works) and the imaginary infused with quotidian images to create an unusual literary pastiche. The first two installments, Dream and Experience, follow the same format: strands of narration, averaging two pages, revolving around a shoe-strewn poplar tree in the first and a series of structures and conceptual art in the second, that resemble hypertext typical of digital technology. The open fragmentary format suggests reader participation such that one could read it randomly rather than sequentially and realize a different experience each time. The third segment, Lab, takes a different direction, opening with a 60-page single sentence interior monolog of almost symphonic repetition and closing with a comic strip. Fernández Mallo represents the Nocilla generation, a name derived from two popular culture icons: the Spanish equivalent of Nutella plus a Spanish punk rock song.
VERDICT Readers of Borges, Cortázar or Vila-Matas, all acknowledged in the text, will embrace the unconventional narration; for others it may be an original yet challenging experience. Its publication marks the first appearance of all three volumes in English in the United States. [See Prepub Alert, 7/19/18.]—Lawrence Olszewski, North Central State Coll., Mansfield, OH

Kenney, John. Talk to Me. Putnam. Jan. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9780735214378. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780735214385. F
Ted Grayson is the last of a dying breed, a respected, wealthy, somber, white news anchor. He is slow to recognize the impermanence of his position even aftera video surfaces of him verbally abusing a young female coworker. With calls for his resignation and a #tedgraysonisawhore hashtag, the tide of public opinion has turned against him. To make matters worse, his wife, Claire, is finally leaving their loveless marriage; his daughter, Franny, a web journalist, pens a tell-all article blasting his parenting; and he feels a persistent pain in his testicle. Ted isn’t sure how to move forward. He must face the consequences his life of privilege and inattention has created. That is, if he survives his fall from an airplane, which is where our story begins.
VERDICT Kenney (Truth in Advertising) delivers a deep tale that balances wit with human folly. No aspects of our modern media lives are left uncovered, as he portrays everything from the old-fashioned nightly news to shock-obsessed web tabloids to CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. Talk to Me reminds us that relationships are lost, and found, in the words we say and the actions we take. [See Prepub Alert, 7/19/18.]—Jennifer Beach, Longwood Univ. Lib., Farmville, VA

Medearis, Wil. Restoration Heights. Hanover Square: Harlequin. Jan. 2019. 336p. ISBN 9781335218728. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488098659. F
[DEBUT] Opening with a passage of second-person narration like that found in Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City, this debut noir feels like a conscious homage to the earlier iconic New York City novel. In both, an obsessive character is caught up in a swirl of glamour and disillusionment, an aspiring artist underachieving at an uncreative day job in a changing city. Protagonist Reddick is a visual artist pushing 30, living in the rapidly gentrifying Bed Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, losing interest in his own paintings while working as an art handler for wealthy Upper East Siders. As a witness to the disappearance of a young woman, Reddick goes down a metaphorical rabbit hole to uncover the mystery. The plot is set in motion by an extremely unlikely coincidence, and in the way of many thrillers, there are a few too many lucky breaks resulting from chance encounters. The novel feels very cinematic and even closes with the kind of explanatory, long-winded speech that one finds only on screen.
VERDICT A self-consciously New York novel, compulsively readable though implausible at times, grappling with themes of race and class and that perennial New York obsession—real estate. [See Prepub Alert, 7/2/18.]—Lauren Gilbert, formerly with Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY

O’Callaghan, Billy. My Coney Island Baby. Harper. Apr. 2019. 256p. ISBN 9780062856562. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062856586. F
Twenty-five years ago, Michael and Caitlin, although married to other people, began an affair, meeting monthly in a Coney Island hotel room. This month’s rendezvous is different, though, because they face serious potential changes in their daily lives that may lead to the end of their illicit but loving long-term relationship. Bound by duty to their spouses and stale marriages while pretending to be satisfied with their secret arrangement, they consider making the biggest change of all when faced with the prospect of losing each other. O’Callaghan’s short story “Goodbye My Coney Island Baby” appeared in one of his three previously published collections, which makes sense because this solemn novel (just missing “Goodbye” in the title) feels like a short story uncomfortably stretched into book length. The distention is caused by the multitudes of verbose yet lyrical descriptions of the sky, the rain, the mattress, the paint on the walls, and pretty much everything. The author is at his best when using the past and present to reveal the characters’ backstories, current situations, emotions, and thoughts in succinct but still breathtaking ways.
VERDICT Amid its overdescriptiveness lies a somber and thought-provoking tale of flawed but realistic characters, adultery, love, and choices.—Samantha Gust, Niagara Univ. Lib., NY

Ollinger, Joe. 10,000 Bones. Diversion. Feb. 2019. 240p. ISBN 9781635760569. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781635760552. SF
In his sophomore effort, Ollinger (A Game Before Darkness) posits a “what if”: What if you live on a planet where one of the basic nutrients of life is so scarce that it has been made official currency? That’s what happened on the planet of Brink, where calcium is the precious commodity everyone wants. Taryn Dare works as a collections agent, responsible for finding those trading in black-market calcium and retrieving bodies so their calcium content can be reintroduced into the system. When she goes out on what she thinks will be a routine retrieval, she is attacked by a man with an axe and then discovers a secret lab where fake, and potentially deadly, calcium is produced. Though she is warned away from the case, her curiosity has been roused and with the help of Agent Brady Kearns she decides to unearth just what is causing the shortfalls in planetary calcium.
VERDICT This is a solid melding of sf and thriller, with an interesting philosophical underpinning. Fans who have rediscovered Richard Morgan and are looking for something more would find a lot to like here.—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

Terry, James. Heir Apparent. Skyhorse. Feb. 2019. 288p. ISBN 9781510731080. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781510731097. MYS
PI Eddie King is being questioned for the murder of Walter Morris, who wrote detective novels under a pseudonym. Upon further investigation, King realizes that Morris’s novels used King’s identity and actual cases. In an attempt to discover how Morris was able to do this, King strikes up a relationship with the man’s widow, which quickly turns passionate. The plot does not come to a logical conclusion and circles various potential subplots: Oedipal, government conspiracy, or even possibly insanity. The work oozes style and does such a great job of mimicking the golden age of noir trappings that it takes a while to realize that the book is, in fact, set in the present. The novel jumps from set piece to set piece—a long stay with the widow, a trip to the hospital where the television shows daytime programming from the early 1980s, an angry visit with his mother, etc.; each situation is satisfying but doesn’t feel connected to a larger narrative, which might actually be the point.
VERDICT This title by James (The Solitary Woman of Shakespeare) is less for fans of traditional noir looking for a straightforward story and more for readers who seek a fanciful, intellectual challenge.—Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend

Tyce, Harriet. Blood Orange. Grand Central. Feb. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9781538762738. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781538713754. SUSPENSE
[DEBUT] Alison, the protagonist in Tyce’s debut psychological suspense novel, is an on-the-rise criminal defense attorney with what seems like a normal life. She has a husband and a little girl and things appear to be going great at home. But in reality, her marriage is falling apart, and she is having an affair with her senior legal partner. It’s a toxic and abusive relationship, but Alison’s career is the one bright spot in her life, as she is assigned her first murder case: a housewife is being tried for the stabbing death of her husband. As the case unwinds, readers will be able to see parallels between Alison and her client.
VERDICT Even though the main character in this cleverly written story is not always the most likable, making bad decision after bad decision, readers will still want her to persevere. Highly recommended for fans of Paula Hawkins and B.A. Paris and those who love dark and disturbing suspense novels. [See Prepub Alert, 8/10/18.]—Joni Gheen, LadyJ’s Bookish Nook, McConnelsville, OH

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