Oprah's Book Club
2016
The Underground Railroad
Book Jacket   Colson Whitehead
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. What if the metaphorical Underground Railroad had been an actualunderground railroad, complete with steam locomotive pulling a "dilapidated box car" along a subterranean nexus of steel tracks? For roughly its first 60 pages, this novel behaves like a prelude to a slave narrative which is, at once, more jolting and sepulchral than the classic firsthand accounts of William Wells Brown and Solomon Northup. Its protagonist, Cora, is among several African-American men and women enslaved on a Georgia plantation and facing a spectrum of savage indignities to their bodies and souls. A way out materializes in the form of an educated slave named Caesar, who tells her about an underground railroad that can deliver her and others northward to freedom. So far, so familiar. But Whitehead, whose eclectic body of work encompasses novels (Zone One, 2011, etc.) playing fast and loose with "real life," both past and present, fires his most daring change-up yet by giving the underground railroad physical form. This train conveys Cora, Caesar, and other escapees first to a South Carolina also historically unrecognizable with its skyscrapers and its seemingly, if microscopically, more liberal attitude toward black people. Compared with Georgia, though, the place seems so much easier that Cora and Caesar are tempted to remain, until more sinister plans for the ex-slaves' destiny reveal themselves. So it's back on the train and on to several more stops: in North Carolina, where they've not only abolished slavery, but are intent on abolishing black people, too; through a barren, more forbidding Tennessee; on to a (seemingly) more hospitable Indiana, and restlessly onward. With each stop, a slave catcher named Ridgeway, dispensing long-winded rationales for his wicked calling, doggedly pursues Cora and her diminishing company of refugees. And with every change of venue, Cora discovers anew that "freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, the empty meadow, you see its true limits." Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller's deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass' grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft's rococo fantasiesand that's when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is. Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2015
Ruby
Book Jacket   Cynthia Bend
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Voodoo, faith and racism converge in an East Texas townparticularly within the troubled titular heroinein this bracing debut novel. When we first meet Ruby Bell, she's a symbol of local disgrace: It's 1974, and a decade earlier she returned to her hometown of Liberty seemingly gone crazy. The local rumor mill (mostly centered around the church) ponders a host of reasons: the lynching of her aunt; her being forced into prostitution as a child; a stint in New York, where she was the rare black woman in a white highbrow literary milieu. The only person who doesn't keep his distance is Ephram, a middle-aged man who braves the town's mockery and the mad squalor of Ruby's home to reconnect with her. Bond presents Ruby as a symbol of a century's worth of abuse toward African-Americans; as one local puts it, "Hell, ain't nothing strange when Colored go crazy. Strange is when we don't." The echoes of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison are clear, but Bond is an accomplished enough writer to work in a variety of modes with skill and insight. She conjures Ruby's fun-house-mirror mind with harrowing visions of voodoo ceremonies and the ghosts of dead children, yet she also delivers plainspoken descriptions of young Ruby's experience in a brothel, surrounded by horrid men. And Bond can be sharply funny, satirizing the high-toned sanctimony of Liberty's churchgoers (especially Ephram's sister Celia) that's really a cover for hypocritical pride and fear. Some of the more intense passages of the novel lapse into purple prose, and the horror of Ruby's experience (which intensifies as the novel moves along) makes her closing redemption feel somewhat pat. But the force of Ruby's character, and Bond's capacity to describe it, is undeniable. A very strong first novel that blends tough realism with the appealing strangeness of a fever dream.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
The Invention of Wings
 Sue Monk Kidd
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Kidd (The Mermaid Chair, 2005, etc.) hits her stride and avoids sentimental revisionism with this historical novel about the relationship between a slave and the daughter of slave owners in antebellum Charleston. Sarah Grimk was an actual early abolitionist and feminist whose upbringing in a slaveholding Southern family made her voice particularly controversial. Kidd re-imagines Sarah's life in tandem with that of a slave in the Grimk household. In 1803, 11-year-old Sarah receives a slave as her birthday present from her wealthy Charleston parents. Called Hetty by the whites, Handful is just what her name implies--sharp tongued and spirited. Precocious Sarah is horrified at the idea of owning a slave but is given no choice by her mother, a conventional Southern woman of her time who is not evil but accepts slavery (and the dehumanizing cruelties that go along with it) as a God-given right. Soon, Sarah and Handful have established a bond built on affection and guilt. Sarah breaks the law by secretly teaching Handful to read and write. When they are caught, Handful receives a lashing, while Sarah is banned from her father's library and all the books therein, her dream of becoming a lawyer dashed. As Sarah and Handful mature, their lives take separate courses. While Handful is physically imprisoned, she maintains her independent spirit, while Sarah has difficulty living her abstract values in her actual life. Eventually, she escapes to Philadelphia and becomes a Quaker, until the Quakers prove too conservative. As Sarah's activism gives her new freedom, Handful's life only becomes harder in the Grimk household. Through her mother, Handful gets to know Denmark Vesey, who dies as a martyr after attempting to organize a slave uprising. Sarah visits less and less often, but the bond between the two women continues until it is tested one last time. Kidd's portrait of white slave-owning Southerners is all the more harrowing for showing them as morally complicated, while she gives Handful the dignity of being not simply a victim, but a strong, imperfect woman.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
 Ayana Mathis
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The legacy of the Great Migration from the 1920s to the 1980s infuses this cutting, emotional collection of linked stories. The central figure of Mathis' debut is Hattie, who arrived in Philadelphia in the 1920s as a teenager, awed by the everyday freedoms afforded blacks outside of her native Georgia. But the opening story, "Philadelphia and Jubilee," is pure heartbreak, as pride and poverty keep her from saving her infant twin children from pneumonia. Though Mathis has inherited some of Alice Walker's sentimentality and Toni Morrison's poetic intonation, her own prose is appealingly earthbound and plainspoken, and the book's structure is ingenious: It moves across the bulk of the 20th century, with each chapter spotlighting one of Hattie's nine surviving children. (The title's "twelve tribes" are those nine children, plus the infant twins and a granddaughter who's central to the closing story.) Each child's personal struggle is a function of the casual bigotry and economic challenges in the wake of Jim Crow. Floyd is a jazz trumpeter and serial philanderer who awakens to his homosexuality; Six is a tent-revival preacher who comes at his profession cynically, as a way to escape his family; Alice is the well-off wife of a doctor with a co-dependent relationship with her brother, Billups; and so on. The longest and most disarming story features Bell, who in 1975 starts a relationship with one of Hattie's former boyfriends, highlighting the themes of illness and oppressiveness of family. Mathis will occasionally oversimplify dialogue to build drama, but she's remarkably deft at many more things for a first-timer: She gracefully shifts her narratives back and forth in time; has an eye for simple but resonant details; and possesses a generous empathy for Hattie, who is unlikable on the surface but carries plenty of complexity. An excellent debut that finds layers of pathos within a troubled clan.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Book Jacket   Cheryl Strayed
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Torch, 2006) life quickly disintegrated. Family ties melted away; she divorced her husband and slipped into drug use. For the next four years life was a series of disappointments. "I was crying over all of it," she writes, "over the sick mire I'd made of my life since my mother died; over the stupid existence that had become my own. I was not meant to be this way, to live this way, to fail so darkly." While waiting in line at an outdoors store, Strayed read the back cover of a book about the Pacific Crest Trail. Initially, the idea of hiking the trail became a vague apparition, then a goal. Woefully underprepared for the wilderness, out of shape and carrying a ridiculously overweight pack, the author set out from the small California town of Mojave, toward a bridge ("the Bridge of the Gods") crossing the Columbia River at the Oregon-Washington border. Strayed's writing admirably conveys the rigors and rewards of long-distance hiking. Along the way she suffered aches, pains, loneliness, blistered, bloody feet and persistent hunger. Yet the author also discovered a newfound sense of awe; for her, hiking the PCT was "powerful and fundamental" and "truly hard and glorious." Strayed was stunned by how the trail both shattered and sheltered her. Most of the hikers she met along the way were helpful, and she also encountered instances of trail magic, "the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail." A candid, inspiring narrative of the author's brutal physical and psychological journey through a wilderness of despair to a renewed sense of self.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2010
A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations
Book Jacket   Charles Dickens
 
2010
Freedom
 Jonathan Franzen
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The epic sprawl of this ambitious yet ultimately unsatisfying novel encompasses everything from indie rock to environmental radicalism to profiteering in the Middle East.The first novel from Franzen in almost a decade invites comparisons with its predecessor, The Corrections, which won the 2001 National Book Award and sparked controversy with Oprah. Both are novels that attempt to engageeven explainthe times in which they transpire, inhabiting the psyches of various characters wrapped in a multigenerational, Midwestern family dynamic. Yet the plot here seems contrived and the characters fail to engage. The narrative takes the tone of a fable, as it illuminates the lives of Patty and Walter Berglund, politically correct liberals who have a seemingly idyllic marriage in Minnesota, and their two children, who ultimately find life way more complicated than the surface satisfaction of their parents had promised. Through flashbacks, chronological leaps and shifts in narrative voice (two long sections represent a third-person autobiography written by Patty as part of her therapy), the novel provides the back stories of Patty and Walter, their disparate families and their unlikely pairing, as the tone shifts from comic irony toward the tragic. Every invocation of the titular notion of "freedom" seems to flash "theme alert!": "He was at once freer than he'd been since puberty and closer than he'd ever been to suicide." "She had so much free time, I could see that it was killing her." "People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don't have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily." "But it didn't feel like a liberation, it felt like a death." Such ideas seem a lot more important to the novelist than the characters in which he invests them, or the plot in which he manipulates those characters like puppets. Franzen remains a sharp cultural critic, but his previous novels worked better as novels than this one does.If "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" (as Kris Kristofferson wrote), this book uses too many words to convey too much of nothing.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2009
Say Youre One of Them
 Uwem Akpan
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Redemption is in short supply in these five stories by a Nigerian priest about children caught in the crossfire of various African countries' upheavals. The opener of this debut collection, "An Ex-mas Feast," is one of the more upbeat entries—which isn't saying much, since its eight-year-old narrator describes sniffing shoe glue to ward off hunger in a Nairobi shanty town while his 12-year-old sister proudly moves from street prostitution to a brothel. In "Fattening for Gabon," a morbid variation on Hansel and Gretel, an uncle literally fattens up his nephew and niece to sell them into slavery. Although he genuinely loves them, his repentance comes too late and with not-unexpected tragic results. The least arresting story is the slight and familiar "What Language Is That?" Their families profess liberal, inclusive attitudes, but a Christian child and her Muslim best friend are prohibited from communicating when rioting breaks out in Addis Ababa, although the girls do find, perhaps briefly, "a new language." That miniscule glimmer of hope for humanity disappears in "Luxurious Hearses," an emotionally exhausting encapsulation of the devastation caused by religion. Baptized as an infant by his Catholic father, raised in a strict Muslim community by his mother, adolescent Jubril is targeted by extremists who happen to be his former playmates. Fleeing religious riots in northern Nigeria on a luxury bus full of Christians, he keeps his right wrist in his pocket; if they see that his hand has been amputated (for stealing, under Sharia law), they will know he is Muslim. Jubril comes close to finding acceptance among his fellow passengers, which only makes their ultimate violence against him that much more disturbing. The final story, "My Parents' Bedroom," goes beyond disturbing toward unbearable as the children of a Tutsi mother and Hutu father in Rwanda witness the unspeakable acts their decent parents are forced to commit. Haunting prose. Unrelenting horror. An almost unreadable must-read. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2008
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Book Jacket   David Wroblewski
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A stately, wonderfully written debut novel that incorporates a few of the great archetypes: a disabled but resourceful young man, a potential Clytemnestra of a mom and a faithful dog. Writing to such formulas, with concomitant omniscience and world-weariness, has long been the stuff of writing workshops. Wroblewski is the product of one such place, but he seems to have forgotten much of what he learned there: He takes an intense interest in his characters; takes pains to invest emotion and rough understanding in them; and sets them in motion with graceful language (and, in eponymous young Edgar's case, sign language). At the heart of the book is a pup from an extremely rare breed, thanks to a family interest in Mendelian genetics; so rare is Almondine, indeed, that she finds ways to communicate with Edgar that no other dog and human, at least in literature, have yet worked out. Edgar may be voiceless, but he is capable of expressing sorrow and rage when his father suddenly dies, and Edgar decides that his father's brother, who has been spending a great deal of time with Edgar's mother, is responsible for the crime. That's an appropriately tragic setup, and Edgar finds himself exiled to the bleak wintry woods—though not alone, for he is now the alpha of his own very special pack. The story takes Jungle Book-ish turns: "He blinked at the excess moonlight in the clearing and clapped for the dogs. High in the crown of a charred tree, an owl covered its dished face, and one branch down, three small replicas followed. Baboo came at once. Tinder had begun pushing into the tall grass and he turned and trotted back." It resolves, however, in ways that will satisfy grown-up readers. The novel succeeds admirably in telling its story from a dog's-eye view that finds the human world very strange indeed. An auspicious debut: a boon for dog lovers, and for fans of storytelling that eschews flash. Highly recommended. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2008
A New Earth
Book Jacket   Eckhart Tolle
 
2007
Pillars of the Earth
 Ken Follett
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Here, Follett sets the thrillers aside for a long, steady story about building a cathedral in 12th-century England. Bloodthirsty or adventure-crazed Follett readers will be frustrated, but anyone who has ever been moved by the splendors of a fine church will sink right into this highly detailed but fast-moving historical work--a novel about the people and skills needed to put up an eye-popping cathedral in the very unsettled days just before the ascension of Henry II. The cathedral is the brainchild of Philip, prior of the monastery at Kingsbridge, and Tom, an itinerant master mason. Philip, shrewd and ambitious but genuinely devout, sees it as a sign of divine agreement when his decrepit old cathedral burns on the night that Tom and his starving family show up seeking shelter. Actually, it's Tom's clever stepson Jack who has stepped in to carry out God's will by secretly torching the cathedral attic, but the effect is the same. Tom gets the commission to start the rebuilding--which is what he has wanted to do more than anything in his life. Meanwhile, however, the work is complicated greatly by local politics. There is a loathsome baron and his family who have usurped the local earldom and allied themselves with the powerful, cynical bishop--who is himself sinfully jealous of Philip's cathedral. There are the dispossessed heirs to earldom, a beautiful girl and her bellicose brother, both sworn to root out the usurpers. And there is the mysterious Ellen, Tom's second wife, who witnessed an ancient treachery that haunts the bishop, the priory, and the vile would-be earl. The great work is set back, and Tom is killed in a raid by the rivals. It falls to young Jack to finish the work. Thriller writing turns out to be pretty good training, since Follett's history moves like a fast freight train. Details are plenty, but they support rather than smother. It's all quite entertaining and memorable. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2007
Love in the Time of Cholera
 Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Almost two decades after One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Márquez has delivered another long, woolly, at times wonderful but consistently elective novel. Elective in the sense that, like One Hundred Years (a book more grazed-in than fully read, the candid reader will admit), you can loll in the lushness and the brilliant details and the generous metaphors, but getting up and walking out of Garcia Máquez's imagination is fairly easy to do: it's a book that doesn't hold on to you. But maybe here it doesn't mean to--it's a story of a decades-long love triangle that bridges the turn of the century in a Caribbean sea-coast town. The principals are a merchant-trader, Florentino Ariza; the sheltered and beautiful Fermina Daza; and the starchy physician who marries her, Dr. Juvenal Urbino de la Calle. Ariza is a born lover, patient beyond belief, in love with love (platonic and sexual), an eroticist of impressive concentration--and his conquests and griefs at least keep the book moving chronologically. Which it only rarely seems to want to do; Garcia Márquez's talent is for peripherals: tastes, comments, colors, sounds, all flocking spectacularly inside any given paragraph like iron filings. The style everywhere is rich and good-humored, but, except for isolated scenes (such as the doctor's confession to his wife of a late-in-life indiscretion), it focuses on the paragraph more than on the chapter. And little finally distinguishes these gorgeous paragraphs--story-turns never undermine them, and you suspect they're there to be admired more than felt. Still, there's almost nothing here (thankfully) of Garcia Márquez's cloying political ironies dressed up as mysteries and cosmogonies; and the stylish sexual histories are fun and will be popular. Broad and brilliant as it is, though, there's an awful lot about a little here--a candy-box of a novel: more paper slots and creamy centers than something hard to bite down on. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2007
The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography
Book Jacket   Sidney Poitier
2007
Middlesex: A Novel
Book Jacket   Jeffrey Eugenides
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780374199692 The verbal energy and narrative range of Saul Bellow's early fiction (say, The Adventures of Augie March) are born again in this dazzling second novel, long-awaited since The Virgin Suicides (1993). Narrator Calliope "Cal" Stephanides is a Greek-American hermaphrodite who eventually becomes a 41-year-old male living in Germany and working for the US State Department. But prior to that-thanks to Cal's assumed ability to "enter the heads" of his relatives and forebears-we're treated to a comic saga that begins in 1922 in the Middle Eastern port city of Smyrna, where Cal's paternal grandparents, Desdemona and Eleutherios ("Lefty"), fall into incestuous love, escape the Turkish siege of their homeland by finagling passage to America (en route to Detroit, where they have family), then, concocting new identities, marry while aboard ship. Eugenides produces one brilliant set piece after another as Desdemona grapples with lifelong guilt; Lefty works briefly at a Henry Ford factory, then prospers as a restaurateur; their son Milton, following ominously in Lefty's footsteps, marries his second cousin Tessie, becomes a hot-dog mogul, and fathers the medical miracle that is Calliope. The story is studded with superbly observed characters, including prematurely senile Dr. Philobosian, who examines, and fails to notice, Calliope's remarkable sexual configuration; Lefty's Cagney-like brother-in-law, bootlegger-entrepreneur Jimmy Zizmo; and the parade of comrades, presumptive lovers, and confidants encountered by Cal as she/he grows into gender confusion and away from suburban comfort in Grosse Pointe, survives the chaos of the late 1960s, and lights out for the territory of-what else?-San Francisco, finally making a kind of peace with her/his divided nature. Middlesex vibrates with wit, and shapes its outrageous premise (which perhaps owes a partial debt to Alan Friedman's unjustly forgotten 1972 novel, Hermaphrodeity) into a beguiling panorama of the century in which America itself struggled to come to terms with its motley heritage and patchwork character. A virtuosic combination of elegy, sociohistorical study, and picaresque adventure: altogether irresistible. Author tour
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2007
The Road
 Cormac McCarthy
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Even within the author's extraordinary body of work, this stands as a radical achievement, a novel that demands to be read and reread. McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, 2005, etc.) pushes his thematic obsessions to their extremes in a parable that reads like Night of the Living Dead as rewritten by Samuel Beckett. Where much of McCarthy's fiction has been set in the recent past of the South and West, here he conjures a nightmare of an indeterminate future. A great fire has left the country covered in layers of ash and littered with incinerated corpses. Foraging through the wasteland are a father and son, neither named (though the son calls the father "Papa"). The father dimly remembers the world as it was and occasionally dreams of it. The son was born on the cusp of whatever has happened—apocalypse? holocaust?—and has never known anything else. His mother committed suicide rather than face the unspeakable horror. As they scavenge for survival, they consider themselves the "good guys," carriers of the fire, while most of the few remaining survivors are "bad guys," cannibals who eat babies. In order to live, they must keep moving amid this shadowy landscape, in which ashes have all but obliterated the sun. In their encounters along their pilgrimage to the coast, where things might not be better but where they can go no further, the boy emerges as the novel's moral conscience. The relationship between father and son has a sweetness that represents all that's good in a universe where conventional notions of good and evil have been extinguished. Amid the bleakness of survival—through which those who wish they'd never been born struggle to persevere—there are glimmers of comedy in an encounter with an old man who plays the philosophical role of the Shakespearean fool. Though the sentences of McCarthy's recent work are shorter and simpler than they once were, his prose combines the cadence of prophecy with the indelible images of poetry. A novel of horrific beauty, where death is the only truth. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2006
Night
 Elie Wiesel
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2005
A Million Little Pieces
Book Jacket   James Frey
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Frey's lacerating, intimate debut chronicles his recovery from multiple addictions with adrenal rage and sprawling prose. After ten years of alcoholism and three years of crack addiction, the 23-year-old author awakens from a blackout aboard a Chicago-bound airplane, "covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood." While intoxicated, he learns, he had fallen from a fire escape and damaged his teeth and face. His family persuades him to enter a Minnesota clinic, described as "the oldest Residential Drug and Alcohol Facility in the World." Frey's enormous alcohol habit, combined with his use of "Cocaine . . . Pills, acid, mushrooms, meth, PCP and glue," make this a very rough ride, with the DTs quickly setting in: "The bugs crawl onto my skin and they start biting me and I try to kill them." Frey captures with often discomforting acuity the daily grind and painful reacquaintance with human sensation that occur in long-term detox; for example, he must undergo reconstructive dental surgery without anesthetic, an ordeal rendered in excruciating detail. Very gradually, he confronts the "demons" that compelled him towards epic chemical abuse, although it takes him longer to recognize his own culpability in self-destructive acts. He effectively portrays the volatile yet loyal relationships of people in recovery as he forms bonds with a damaged young woman, an addicted mobster, and an alcoholic judge. Although he rejects the familiar 12-step program of AA, he finds strength in the principles of Taoism and (somewhat to his surprise) in the unflinching support of family, friends, and therapists, who help him avoid a relapse. Our acerbic narrator conveys urgency and youthful spirit with an angry, clinical tone and some initially off-putting prose tics—irregular paragraph breaks, unpunctuated dialogue, scattered capitalization, few commas—that ultimately create striking accruals of verisimilitude and plausible human portraits. Startling, at times pretentious in its self-regard, but ultimately breathtaking: The Lost Weekend for the under-25 set. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2005
As I Lay Dying
Book Jacket   William Faulkner
 
2005
The Sound and the Fury
 William Faulkner
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2005
Light in August
 William Faulkner
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2004
The Good Earth
Book Jacket   Pearl Buck
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Illustrator Bertozzi (Becoming Andy Warhol, 2016, etc.) adapts Buck's (The Eternal Wonder, 2013, etc.) Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of a man's fluctuating fortunes and existential crises in early-20th-century China.For years, farmer Wang Lung has worked the soil, pulling forth bountiful harvests, and now the sale of his excess crops has funded a fateful purchase: a slave from the great house in town to be his wife. O-lan quickly proves invaluable: cooking fancy cakes like those she served to the local lord and lady, sewing clothes, and working the fields alongside her husband, stopping only to bear children. O-lan's steady hand helps during high times, when Wang Lung purchases land from the great house, and during low, when famine drives the family south to a big city where they live as beggars and Wang Lung runs a rickshaw. On the streets, Wang Lung witnesses class tensions that boil over into a riotduring which O-lan manages to multiply their fortune. Once settled back on the land and having grown prosperous, the family faces the struggles of the nouveau riche: a son ashamed of their bumpkin roots, Wang Lung's discontent with his plebeian wife driving him to take a concubine, fears of good fortune being snatched away by jealous spirits (or family members). The half-dozen or so borderless panels per page propel the story along, flowing in brief scenes of survival, domesticity, society, and legacy. Bertozzi beautifully distills Buck's text into poignant snippets, zeroing in on details such as the anguished clench of O-lan's fingers as she bears the news that Wang Lung is pursuing another woman. The black-on-gray chiaroscuro lends the work an engraved look, perfectly capturing the story's timeless subject matter while also underscoring the antiquity of the depicted world, where women are slaves. Even within this foreign worldview, Buck and Bertozzi convey rich moral complexity and universal concerns. A finely rendered showcase for a classic tale. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2004
Anna Karenina
Book Jacket   Leo Tolstoy
 
2004
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
 Carson McCullers
  Book Jacket
2004
One Hundred Years of Solitude
 Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  Book Jacket
 
2003
Cry, the Beloved Country
Book Jacket   Alan Paton
2003
East of Eden
Book Jacket   John Steinbeck
 
2002
Sula
 Toni Morrison
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2002
Fall on Your Knees
 Ann-Marie MacDonald
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780684833200 From award-winning Canadian actress and playwright MacDonald comes a full-bodied, ever-rolling debut, the story of a talented Cape Breton family with more than its share of repression and tragedy. As the 19th century ends, young James Piper travels from the Breton hinterland to the civilized port of Sydney seeking his fortune, and in no time at all he acquires a child bride, a house built by his Lebanese father-in-law, and the everlasting enmity of his wife's powerful family. Although the ardor between James and his spouse soon cools, they now have a daughter, Kathleen, who seems destined for great things when her breathtaking voice and beauty begin to captivate all as she enters her teens. But another shadow falls on the family when James finds himself making improper advances to her. Appalled, he patches things up with his wife (two more daughters being the result), goes off to fight in WW I, and sends Kathleen to New York to study voice after he returns. All still isn't well, however, when she comes home pregnant six months later, then dies in childbirth when Mom slices her open to save her daughter's twins. One of them dies anyway, followed two days later by Mom, who commits suicide. James is left with three girls to raise, all of them scarred for life by the crisis: The newborn contracts polio when her aunt Frances, a child herself, tries to baptize her in a nearby creek; Frances is raped by James in his grief at losing Kathleen; the eldest, a witness to the rape, is also the one to find her mother's body. Such awful events, though quickly repressed, bode no good for the family, and ultimately tragedy overtakes them all. A plate piled dangerously high with calamities, perhaps, but the time, place, and people- -especially the children--all ring clear and true, making for an accomplished, considerably affecting saga.
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2001
A Fine Balance
Book Jacket   Rohinton Mistry
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780679446088 From the Toronto-based Mistry (Such a Long Journey, 1991), a splendid tale of contemporary India that, in chronicling the sufferings of outcasts and innocents trying to survive in the ``State of Internal Emergency'' of the 1970s, grapples with the great question of how to live in the face of death and despair. Though Mistry is too fine a writer to indulge in polemics, this second novel is also a quietly passionate indictment of a corrupt and ineluctably cruel society. India under Indira Gandhi has become a country ruled by thugs who maim and kill for money and power. The four protagonists (all victims of the times) are: Dina, 40-ish, poor and widowed after only three years of marriage; Maneck, the son of an old school friend of Dina's; and two tailors, Ishvar and his nephew Om, members of the Untouchable caste. For a few months, this unlikely quartet share a tranquil happiness in a nameless city--a city of squalid streets teeming with beggars, where politicians, in the name of progress, abuse the poor and the powerless. Dina, whose dreams of attending college ended when her father died, is now trying to support herself with seamstress work; Maneck, a tenderhearted boy, has been sent to college because the family business is failing; and the two tailors find work with Dina. Though the four survive encounters with various thugs and are saved from disaster by a quirky character known as the Beggarmaster, the times are not propitious for happiness. On a visit back home, Om and Ishvar are forcibly sterilized; Maneck, devastated by the murder of an activist classmate, goes abroad. But Dina and the tailors, who have learned ``to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair,'' keep going. A sweeping story, in a thoroughly Indian setting, that combines Dickens's vivid sympathy for the poor with Solzhenitsyn's controlled outrage, celebrating both the resilience of the human spirit and the searing heartbreak of failed dreams.
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780679446088 From the Toronto-based Mistry (Such a Long Journey, 1991), a splendid tale of contemporary India that, in chronicling the sufferings of outcasts and innocents trying to survive in the ``State of Internal Emergency'' of the 1970s, grapples with the great question of how to live in the face of death and despair. Though Mistry is too fine a writer to indulge in polemics, this second novel is also a quietly passionate indictment of a corrupt and ineluctably cruel society. India under Indira Gandhi has become a country ruled by thugs who maim and kill for money and power. The four protagonists (all victims of the times) are: Dina, 40-ish, poor and widowed after only three years of marriage; Maneck, the son of an old school friend of Dina's; and two tailors, Ishvar and his nephew Om, members of the Untouchable caste. For a few months, this unlikely quartet share a tranquil happiness in a nameless city--a city of squalid streets teeming with beggars, where politicians, in the name of progress, abuse the poor and the powerless. Dina, whose dreams of attending college ended when her father died, is now trying to support herself with seamstress work; Maneck, a tenderhearted boy, has been sent to college because the family business is failing; and the two tailors find work with Dina. Though the four survive encounters with various thugs and are saved from disaster by a quirky character known as the Beggarmaster, the times are not propitious for happiness. On a visit back home, Om and Ishvar are forcibly sterilized; Maneck, devastated by the murder of an activist classmate, goes abroad. But Dina and the tailors, who have learned ``to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair,'' keep going. A sweeping story, in a thoroughly Indian setting, that combines Dickens's vivid sympathy for the poor with Solzhenitsyn's controlled outrage, celebrating both the resilience of the human spirit and the searing heartbreak of failed dreams.
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2001
The Corrections
Book Jacket   Jonathan Franzen
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780374129989 The recent brouhaha about the death of realistic fiction may well be put to rest by Franzen's stunning third novel: a symphonic exploration of family dynamics and social conflict and change that leaps light-years beyond its critically praised predecessors The Twenty-Seventh City (1998) and Strong Motion (1992). The story's set in the Midwest, New York City, and Philadelphia, and focused on the tortured interrelationships of the five adult Lamberts. Patriarch Alfred, a retired railroad engineer, drifts in and out of hallucinatory lapses inflicted by Parkinson's, while stubbornly clinging to passe conservative ideals. His wife Enid, a compulsive peacemaker with just a hint of Edith Bunker in her frazzled "niceness," nervously subverts Alfred's stoicism, while lobbying for "one last Christmas" gathering of her scattered family at their home in the placid haven of St. Jude. Eldest son Gary, a Philadelphia banker, is an unhappily married "materialist"; sister Denise is a rapidly aging thirtysomething chef rebounding from a bad marriage and unresolvable relationships with male and female lovers; and younger son Chip-the most abrasively vivid figure here-is an unemployable former teacher and failed writer whose misadventures in Lithuania, where he's been impulsively hired "to produce a profit-making website" for a financially moribund nation, slyly counterpoint the spectacle back home of an American family, and culture, falling steadily apart. Franzen analyzes these five characters in astonishingly convincing depth, juxtaposing their personal crises and failures against the siren songs of such "corrections" as the useless therapy treatment (based on his own patented invention) that Alfred undergoes, the "uppers" Enid gets from a heartless Doctor Feelgood during a (wonderfully depicted) vacation cruise, and the various panaceas and hustles doled out by the consumer culture Alfred rails against ("Oh, the myths, the childish optimism of the fix"), but is increasingly powerless to oppose. A wide-angled view of contemporary America and its discontents that deserves comparison with Dos Passos's U.S.A., if not with Tolstoy. One of the most impressive American novels of recent years.
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2001
Cane River
 Lalita Tademy
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780446527323 An accomplished first novel weaves fragments of real-life family lore into a vivid tale of four generations of African-American women struggling to hold their families together, first as slaves, then as freed people subject to Jim Crow laws and white vigilantism. The story opens in 1834, on a plantation on the Cane River in Louisiana, as Suzette turns nine. She's a house slave who often works in the kitchen with her mother Elisabeth, the cook and family matriarch whose love and wisdom will sustain them all in the years ahead. Though born in Virginia, where she had two sons by her white master, Elisabeth had to leave them when she was sold to the present French family, the Derbannes. It's a time when color divides both blacks and whites. Light-skinned freed slaves despise their darker enslaved kin, and white plantation owners sell their children by slave women when they need money. Elisabeth has high hopes for Suzette until her daughter is raped by visiting Eugene Daurat and bears him two children, Gerant and Philomene. As the plantation fails and the family scatters, the story turns to Philomene, who recalls how she became the mistress of white planter Narcisse Fredieu, a man who adores their beautiful daughter Emily. But although Narcisse gives Philomene land when slavery ends, prejudice and custom still prevail, as Emily learns when she falls in love with Frenchman Joseph Billes. Joseph, a rich farmer who marries a white woman when the locals threaten to ostracize him, tries to provide for Emily and their children?until a theft and murder intervene. Tademy's people are distinctive personalities, enough so to compensate for the slackening of narrative energy as the story moves into the 1930s. The result is a richly textured family saga that resonates with intelligence and empathy. $250,000 ad/promo; author tour
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780446527323 An accomplished first novel weaves fragments of real-life family lore into a vivid tale of four generations of African-American women struggling to hold their families together, first as slaves, then as freed people subject to Jim Crow laws and white vigilantism. The story opens in 1834, on a plantation on the Cane River in Louisiana, as Suzette turns nine. She's a house slave who often works in the kitchen with her mother Elisabeth, the cook and family matriarch whose love and wisdom will sustain them all in the years ahead. Though born in Virginia, where she had two sons by her white master, Elisabeth had to leave them when she was sold to the present French family, the Derbannes. It's a time when color divides both blacks and whites. Light-skinned freed slaves despise their darker enslaved kin, and white plantation owners sell their children by slave women when they need money. Elisabeth has high hopes for Suzette until her daughter is raped by visiting Eugene Daurat and bears him two children, Gerant and Philomene. As the plantation fails and the family scatters, the story turns to Philomene, who recalls how she became the mistress of white planter Narcisse Fredieu, a man who adores their beautiful daughter Emily. But although Narcisse gives Philomene land when slavery ends, prejudice and custom still prevail, as Emily learns when she falls in love with Frenchman Joseph Billes. Joseph, a rich farmer who marries a white woman when the locals threaten to ostracize him, tries to provide for Emily and their children?until a theft and murder intervene. Tademy's people are distinctive personalities, enough so to compensate for the slackening of narrative energy as the story moves into the 1930s. The result is a richly textured family saga that resonates with intelligence and empathy. $250,000 ad/promo; author tour
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  Book Jacket
2001
Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail
 Malika Oufkir
  Book Jacket
 
2001
Icy Sparks
Book Jacket   Gwyn Hyman Rubio
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780670873111 An overwritten, underdeveloped story celebrating Appalachia and a young woman who suffers from Tourette's syndrome. Kentucky's backwoodsy mountains are the setting for this chronicle of a girl who, as an infant, was called ?Icy? by her dying mother because she was as ``cold as the bottom of Icy creek.'' Here in the hollows, where coal is still mined, country ways prevail: people are mostly kind, but ignorance and fear can also make them behave cruelly. Descriptions (of them and the countryside) augment the rather thin tale of Icy, for the most part a sequence of vivid and brutal set-pieces: the girl?s encounter with a sadistic fourth-grade teacher; her spell in the state asylum; her first and failed romance at 13. Icy also does a lot of walking around the hollows and visiting with her family and few good friends. Lovingly raised by her grandparents, and befriended by the overweight Miss Emily, who encourages Icy to dream of college and a different life, she first experiences alarming symptoms at age ten. When stressed, she begins croaking like a frog, her eyes pop, and she helplessly lets loose a string of offensive epithets. But it?s the 1950s, and not even the kindly asylum?s doctor knows what's wrong. Once she?s home again, Icy (called ?Frog Child? by some), now shunned by her peers and feared by the locals, leads a lonely life studying the books provided by Miss Emily and a generous school principal. When her grandfather dies, her grandmother joins a church, and Icy, persuaded to come along, learns that her beautiful singing voice can be an asset to the choir. Eventually, this will win her the acceptance she's long yearned for. An epilogue details the diagnosis she receives at college, which finally vindicates her. Well intentioned, for sure, but Icy is too much the poster child for great success as fiction.
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2001
We Were the Mulvaneys
Book Jacket   Joyce Carol Oates
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780525942238 This wrenching saga, set in the fictional upstate New York town of Mount Ephraim, is one of the protean Oates's most skillful dramatizations of family unhappiness: A big, involving novel on a par with such successes as Them (1969), Bellefleur (1980), and What I Lived For (1994). The story, from the 1950s through the 1980s, tells of roofing contractor Mike Mulvaney, his beautiful and tenderhearted wife Corinne, and their four children: ``High school celebrity'' and football hero Mike Jr., intellectually gifted Patrick, sweet and simple Marianne, and troubled Judd, the youngest, who narrates, mixing ``conjecture'' with remembered facts as he recounts both his immediate family's shared experiences and the earlier lives of their parents. The resulting panorama offers both a brilliantly detailed and varied picture of family life and a succession of dramatic set pieces, the majority of which are ingeniously related to ``the events of 1976 when everything came apart for us.'' In that year, inexperienced Marianne either was raped or had consensual sex with a high-school boy she hardly knew--Oates keeps both possibilities teasingly in play--and in the aftermath of her disgrace, Mike Sr. became a helpless belligerent drunk, Patrick subverted his formidable powers of concentration to fantasies of ``executing justice,'' and the once-proud Mulvaneys began their long descent into financial ruin, estrangement, and death. Their harrowing story is leavened by Oates's matchless grasp of middle- class culture, and by a number of superbly orchestrated extended scenes and flashbacks. These are people we recognize, and she makes us care deeply about them. Just when you think Oates has finally run dry, or is mired in mechanical self-repetition, she stuns you with another example of her essential kinship with the classic American realistic novelists. Dreiser would have understood and approved the passion and power of We Were the Mulvaneys. (First printing of 75,000; author tour)
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2000
House of Sand and Fog
 Andre Dubus
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780393046977 In an enthralling tragedy built on a foundation of small misfortunes, Dubus (Bluesman, 1993, etc.) offers in detail the unraveling life of a woman who, in her undoing, brings devastation to the families of those in her path. It was bad enough when Kathy Lazaro stepped out of the shower one morning to find herself evicted from her house, a small bungalow to be auctioned the very next day in a county tax sale; bad enough that her recovering-addict husband had left her some time before, and that she had no friends at all in California to help her move or put her up. Then she also had to fall for the guy who evicted her, Deputy Les Burdon'married, with two kids. Sympathetic to her plight, Les lines up legal counsel and makes sure she has a place to stay, but his optimism (and the lawyer's) hits an immovable object in proud ex-Colonel Behrani, formerly of the Iranian Air Force, who fled his homeland with his family when the Shah was deposed and who has struggled secretly in San Francisco for years to maintain appearances until his daughter can make a good marriage. He's sunken his remaining life savings into buying Kathy's house, at a tremendous bargain, planning to reinvent himself as a real-estate speculator, and he has no wish to sell it back when informed that the county made a bureaucratic error. Hounded by both Kathy and Les'who has moved out, guiltily, on his family and brought his lover, herself a recovering addict, back to the bar scene'Behrani is increasingly unable to shield his wife and teenaged son from the ugly truth, but he still won't yield. Then Kathy tries to kill herself, and Les takes the law into his own hands . . . . No villains here, but only precisely rendered proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780393046977 In an enthralling tragedy built on a foundation of small misfortunes, Dubus (Bluesman, 1993, etc.) offers in detail the unraveling life of a woman who, in her undoing, brings devastation to the families of those in her path. It was bad enough when Kathy Lazaro stepped out of the shower one morning to find herself evicted from her house, a small bungalow to be auctioned the very next day in a county tax sale; bad enough that her recovering-addict husband had left her some time before, and that she had no friends at all in California to help her move or put her up. Then she also had to fall for the guy who evicted her, Deputy Les Burdon'married, with two kids. Sympathetic to her plight, Les lines up legal counsel and makes sure she has a place to stay, but his optimism (and the lawyer's) hits an immovable object in proud ex-Colonel Behrani, formerly of the Iranian Air Force, who fled his homeland with his family when the Shah was deposed and who has struggled secretly in San Francisco for years to maintain appearances until his daughter can make a good marriage. He's sunken his remaining life savings into buying Kathy's house, at a tremendous bargain, planning to reinvent himself as a real-estate speculator, and he has no wish to sell it back when informed that the county made a bureaucratic error. Hounded by both Kathy and Les'who has moved out, guiltily, on his family and brought his lover, herself a recovering addict, back to the bar scene'Behrani is increasingly unable to shield his wife and teenaged son from the ugly truth, but he still won't yield. Then Kathy tries to kill herself, and Les takes the law into his own hands . . . . No villains here, but only precisely rendered proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
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  Book Jacket
2000
Drowning Ruth
 Christina Schwarz
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. With quietly powerful prose and carefully nuanced description, a first-novelist creates a satisfying fictional world inhabited by complicated people painfully coming to terms with their common history. The plot revolves around a mystery, which is well handled but secondary to the characters' development. In 1919, when unmarried Amanda Starkey leaves her nursing job in Milwaukee under duress, she goes home to her sister, Mattie, and three-year-old niece, Ruth, in rural Wisconsin. One bitter winter night shortly before her wounded husband, Carl, is due to return from WWI, Mattie falls through the ice and drowns in the lake that surrounds their island farm. In the years that follow, Carl and Amanda share responsibility for raising Ruth, maintaining an uneasy truce even as he struggles against her evasions to understand exactly how and why Mattie drowned. The circumstances of that drowning are slowly revealed, and Schwarz avoids most of the pitfalls of the unravel-the-awful-secret genre. Yes, there are plenty of awful secrets to share or hide. Yes, Ruth almost drowned too, and yes, Amanda was hiding an illegitimate pregnancy, but the story never turns to melodrama. The author's concern is less with keeping readers in suspense than with exploring the damage inflicted by the human drive to protect not only oneself but those one loves. Schwarz keeps the focus on the choices, interactions, and all-too-frequent misunderstandings of her people, all of whom react to the effects of tragedy with surprising complexity. The narrative jumps from viewpoint to viewpoint a bit too jerkily at times, but the charm of its detail and the generous insight into even small, imperfect lives more than compensate for minor technical lapses. An engrossing debut from a writer to watch. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2000
Open House
Book Jacket   Elizabeth Berg
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The eighth effortless novel from soft-pedaling specialist Berg (Until the Real Thing Comes Along, 1999, etc.) is an emotional slurpee/comedy featuring the newly separated mother of a near-teenaged son who finds the man of her dreams in spite of herself. What's a woman to do after her husband of 20 years packs a bag and walks out? Take a page from Martha Stewart's book, apparently, by getting dressed to the nines, making an elegant breakfast, and then trying to make the kid go along with the charade. Unfortunately for Samantha Morrow, she isn't Martha Stewart, and her son Travis is unflinchingly frank. So Sam goes to Tiffany's and writes a $12,000 check for silver flatware instead, whereupon her husband, David, takes all the money out of their joint account, and she has to start renting out rooms. The first boarder to move in is the mother of her grocery store's cashier, a sweet, capable lady who comes complete with a devoted boyfriend—and the hulk named King who moved her in is a sweetie, too. So what if the woman snores and keeps Travis awake? He and Sam adjust, and everything would be fine if she didn't keep hoping David would come back. But he has the good life and a girlfriend, while she's started temping (on King's recommendation) and dating (at her mother's insistence), the latter with disastrous results. The little old lady marries her boyfriend, another renter proves clinically depressed, and Sam has trouble adjusting to the working life. Even a distress call to Martha Stewart's 800 number doesn't help. Then, when she least expects it, love is in the air. Skillfully crafted, with a fluidity and snap that will delight Berg's fans but, when all is said and done, a distressingly familiar story. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2000
The Poisonwood Bible
Book Jacket   Barbara Kingsolver
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780060175405 The first novel in five years from the ever-popular Kingsolver (Pigs in Heaven, 1993, etc.) is a large-scale saga of an American family's enlightening and disillusioning African adventure. It begins with a stunningly written backward look: Orleanna Price's embittered memory of the uncompromising zeal that impelled her husband, Baptist missionary Nathan Price, to take her and their four daughters to the (then) Belgian Congo in 1959, and remain there despite dangerous evidence of the country's instability under Patrice Lumumba's ill-starred independence movement, Belgian and American interference and condescension, and Joseph Mobutu's murderous military dictatorship. The bulk of the story, which is set in the superbly realized native village of Kilanga, is narrated in turn by the four Price girls: Leah, the ``smart'' twin, whose worshipful respect for her father will undergo a rigorous trial by fire; her ?retarded'' counterpart Adah, disabled and mute (though in the depths of her mind articulate and playfully intelligent); eldest sister Rachel, a self-important whiner given to hilarious malapropisms (``feminine tuition''; ``I prefer to remain anomalous''); and youngest sister Ruth May, whose childish fantasies of union with the surrounding, smothering landscape are cruelly fulfilled. Kingsolver skillfully orchestrates her characters? varied responses to Africa into a consistently absorbing narrative that reaches climax after climax?and that, even after you're sure it must be nearing its end, continues for a wrenching hundred pages or more, spelling out in unforgettable dramatic and lyric terms the fates of the surviving Prices. Little recent fiction has so successfully fused the personal with the political. Better even than Robert Stone in his otherwise brilliant Damascus Gate, Kingsolver convinces us that her characters are, first and foremost, breathing, fallible human beings and only secondarily conduits for her book?s vigorously expressed and argued social and political ideas. A triumph. (Author tour)
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2000
While I Was Gone
 Sue Miller
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Now, in a richly textured but emotionally cool novel, Miller (The Distinguished Guest, 1995, etc. ) limns a fall from grace and the hard climb back to redemption as a woman tempted to take a timeout from her marriage almost destroys all the good things in her life. Jo Becker, a veterinarian in a small Massachusetts town, is intensely aware of all those seemingly inconsequential yet important daily habits—taking walks with the family dogs, cooking dinner, going fishing—that form part of the marital glue. The mother of three grownup daughters, and married to local pastor Daniel, fiftyish Jo considers herself fortunate until Eli Mayhew, new in town, brings his ailing dog to her and reminds her of their shared past. In the weeks that follow, as she prepares for Thanksgiving and Christmas, she recalls her failed first marriage and her flight from her parents to a new identity and life in Boston (where she and Eli had once been housemates). After a mutual friend's grisly and unsolved murder, Jo returned to her family, became a vet, and met Daniel. But as she starts to reminisce with Eli, now a distinguished scientist, she finds herself yearning for her old freedom—and beginning an affair with Eli. A horrifying admission frightens her into offering a parallel confession of her own to her husband. Terribly hurt, he finds it hard to forgive her, but the marriage slowly begins to mend in spite of it. Jo, conscious of what it will cost her to regain his trust and love, tries "to accept the changes I made when I didn't intend to." Despite being a finely tuned take on a good marriage suddenly imperiled by the vagaries of the heart, this latest from the popular Miller is more a perceptive study than absorbing story. Both Joe and Daniel—never very credible to begin with—remain one- dimensional ideas rather than full-blooded characters. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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  Book Jacket
2000
The Bluest Eye
 Toni Morrison
  Book Jacket
 
2000
Back Roads
Book Jacket   Tawni O'Dell
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780670894185 A strong, thoughtful first novel that hews to time-honored fiction traditions, rooting a voyage of personal discovery in beautifully rendered particulars of character and place. We don't know exactly what kind of trouble 20-year-old Harley Altmyer is in when the story begins with him being interrogated by police officers, but we quickly learn that he's seen plenty of bad times already. It's been two years since his mother went to jail for shooting his father, and two now dead-end jobs are barely enough to support Harley and his three younger sisters in a dying western Pennsylvania town poisoned and abandoned by the coal industry. Sixteen-year-old Amber screws every guy in sight, daring Harley to do anything about it. Twelve-year-old Misty, favorite of their deceased father'which means he beat her more than he did the other three'seems not to care about anything. Six-year-old Jody writes notes to herself ('FEED DINUSORS/ EAT BREKFIST') and keeps secrets she's not quite aware she possesses. Harley keeps his court-mandated appointments with a psychiatrist, but resists her efforts to make him open up. Smart and sharply funny though he is'hardly anyone catches his irony'Harley is trapped in the man's role he knows is a crock but can't let go. O'Dell does an impressive job of getting inside the head of a member of the opposite sex, creating a first-person narration of painful veracity as Harley rants against his mother and defends his father ('He didn't like his job, but he went to it every day . . . . He was a flesh-and-blood man who couldn't stand it if you spilled something'). The dysfunctional dynamics of a family scarred by domestic violence and incestuous longings lead to some luridly melodramatic twists, but the author's compassion and love for her characters shine throughout. When O'Dell's plotting achieves the maturity of her character development, she's going to write a really extraordinary novel. This one is pretty darn good. (Book-of-the-Month Club main selection)
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780670887606 A strong, thoughtful first novel that hews to time-honored fiction traditions, rooting a voyage of personal discovery in beautifully rendered particulars of character and place. We don't know exactly what kind of trouble 20-year-old Harley Altmyer is in when the story begins with him being interrogated by police officers, but we quickly learn that he's seen plenty of bad times already. It's been two years since his mother went to jail for shooting his father, and two now dead-end jobs are barely enough to support Harley and his three younger sisters in a dying western Pennsylvania town poisoned and abandoned by the coal industry. Sixteen-year-old Amber screws every guy in sight, daring Harley to do anything about it. Twelve-year-old Misty, favorite of their deceased father'which means he beat her more than he did the other three'seems not to care about anything. Six-year-old Jody writes notes to herself ('FEED DINUSORS/ EAT BREKFIST') and keeps secrets she's not quite aware she possesses. Harley keeps his court-mandated appointments with a psychiatrist, but resists her efforts to make him open up. Smart and sharply funny though he is'hardly anyone catches his irony'Harley is trapped in the man's role he knows is a crock but can't let go. O'Dell does an impressive job of getting inside the head of a member of the opposite sex, creating a first-person narration of painful veracity as Harley rants against his mother and defends his father ('He didn't like his job, but he went to it every day . . . . He was a flesh-and-blood man who couldn't stand it if you spilled something'). The dysfunctional dynamics of a family scarred by domestic violence and incestuous longings lead to some luridly melodramatic twists, but the author's compassion and love for her characters shine throughout. When O'Dell's plotting achieves the maturity of her character development, she's going to write a really extraordinary novel. This one is pretty darn good. (Book-of-the-Month Club main selection)
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2000
Daughter of Fortune
Book Jacket   Isabel Allende
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780060194918 Allende's first novel in six years (The Infinite Plan, 1993, etc.) delivers her gentle, often plush style at extravagant length to tell the life of Eliza Sommers, a Chilean woman who immigrates to San Francisco in the 1840s. Abandoned as a baby in the British colony of Valparaiso, Eliza is raised by Jeremy and Rose Sommers, a prosperous pair of siblings who consider the girl a gift. For unmarried Rose, Eliza is compensation for the child she's always lacked; brother Jeremy is pleased that the infant legitimizes their odd cohabitation. A thriving seaport, Valparaiso welcomes sailors and hucksters in abundance: Jeremy is a ship's captain, and one Jacob Todd a Bible salesman without official sanction. Todd quickly falls for Rose, though she misunderstands him and thinks he's fallen in love with young Eliza. Some 200 pages later, Eliza falls in love with Joaqu¡n Andieta, who her pregnant and then sails for the promise of gold in California. Eliza follows, miscarries during her passage north, and is befriended by Tao Chi'en, a Chinese physician. (His early struggles and departure from Asia are treated in detail.) Meanwhile, Eliza wanders through California with undiminished hope. This takes years, and along the way Tao Chi'en is transformed from his traditional ways, while Eliza adopts the role of a man and encounters dozens of curious people. Back in Valparaiso, the Sommers pair regret their loss but are given hope of tracking Eliza down when Todd'now a newspaper reporter'tells them he's seen her. Finally, after Eliza discovers that Joaqu¡n, having become a bandit, has been murdered, she and Tao Chi'en are free to explore their (so-far unexpressed) love for each other. Allende has clearly enjoyed providing rich elaborations that don't particularly advance the story here but affirm her theme of personal discovery. Each of her characters finds 'something different from what we were looking for.' With this novel, the same may not be said of readers who enjoy Allende's fiction. (Book-of-the-Month Club dual main selection; author tour)
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780060194918 Allende's first novel in six years (The Infinite Plan, 1993, etc.) delivers her gentle, often plush style at extravagant length to tell the life of Eliza Sommers, a Chilean woman who immigrates to San Francisco in the 1840s. Abandoned as a baby in the British colony of Valparaiso, Eliza is raised by Jeremy and Rose Sommers, a prosperous pair of siblings who consider the girl a gift. For unmarried Rose, Eliza is compensation for the child she's always lacked; brother Jeremy is pleased that the infant legitimizes their odd cohabitation. A thriving seaport, Valparaiso welcomes sailors and hucksters in abundance: Jeremy is a ship's captain, and one Jacob Todd a Bible salesman without official sanction. Todd quickly falls for Rose, though she misunderstands him and thinks he's fallen in love with young Eliza. Some 200 pages later, Eliza falls in love with Joaqu¡n Andieta, who her pregnant and then sails for the promise of gold in California. Eliza follows, miscarries during her passage north, and is befriended by Tao Chi'en, a Chinese physician. (His early struggles and departure from Asia are treated in detail.) Meanwhile, Eliza wanders through California with undiminished hope. This takes years, and along the way Tao Chi'en is transformed from his traditional ways, while Eliza adopts the role of a man and encounters dozens of curious people. Back in Valparaiso, the Sommers pair regret their loss but are given hope of tracking Eliza down when Todd'now a newspaper reporter'tells them he's seen her. Finally, after Eliza discovers that Joaqu¡n, having become a bandit, has been murdered, she and Tao Chi'en are free to explore their (so-far unexpressed) love for each other. Allende has clearly enjoyed providing rich elaborations that don't particularly advance the story here but affirm her theme of personal discovery. Each of her characters finds 'something different from what we were looking for.' With this novel, the same may not be said of readers who enjoy Allende's fiction. (Book-of-the-Month Club dual main selection; author tour)
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1999
Gap Creek
 Robert Morgan
  Book Jacket
1999
A Map of the World
 Jane Hamilton
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780385473101 Hamilton's second novel will inevitably invite comparison with Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres--it too is a big book about a farm family's fall from grace--but the author of The Book of Ruth (1988), winner of the PEN/Hemingway award for the best first novel, carves out her own territory in a strong, compelling story. Alice Goodwin, 30ish, is a school nurse and the mother of two young daughters, Emma and Claire. Her husband, Howard, runs the dairy farm they live on in Prairie Center, Wisc. Farming is not just his job but his passion; the words ``Golden Guernsey'' hold all the magic of poetry in his ears. Alice admires but can't share this fervor. For her, passion seems long-buried under a heap of day-to-day responsibilities she feels only half-good at. One sunny June day, her safe life is shattered by an unthinkable tragedy: A small child under her care has an accident and dies. After that, as if a doorway to darkness has been opened, Alice finds herself in more trouble, accused of terrible crimes, wrenched from her family and locked in jail. From farm wife to felon is a big leap, but Hamilton makes it completely believable by portraying a woman whose strengths are also her downfall. As a child, Alice designed her own map of the world to find her bearings. Now, as an adult, she has to find her own way again, through a thicket of lies and a maze of ill will, just to get back to the solid ground she took for granted before. Unforgettably, beat by beat, Hamilton maps the best and worst of the human heart and all the mysterious, uncharted country in between. (Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection; Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection; author tour)
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1999
Vinegar Hill
Book Jacket   A. Manette Ansay
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780670852536 First-time author Ansay, a 1992 recipient of the Nelson Algren Prize, subjects her readers to a small-town family's legacy of abuse and despair. In 1972, Jimmy and Ellen Grier, a young couple with two children, move back to their German-American rural Wisconsin hometown and into the oppressive house of Jimmy's parents, a bitter couple who allow no joy or warmth at their hearth. Ellen longs to leave, but Jimmy refuses to budge, maintaining that he knows what is best for his family, which includes reverting to a kid in the presence of his mother, Mary-Margaret, and a defenseless sap in front of his abusive father, Fritz. To his children, Jimmy is an eccentric, distant man, and they are most comfortable when he is away selling farm equipment for days or weeks at a time; then they can steal some moments alone with their mother and give in to their inherent good natures. The early chapters are almost unbearable to read, as vulnerable Ellen is forced by convention into an unhappy life. The pain only intensifies as the narrative reveals the stories of Mary-Margaret, her sister Salome, Jimmy, and his twin brothers who died at birth; we see that the family's regressive behavior can be attributed to Fritz's brutality. Ellen's defense is to take prescription pills that numb her. She almost becomes another victim until she learns about an audacious act once committed by Mary-Margaret's mother, the only relative with a lick of sense. Inspired by camaraderie with this long-dead woman, Ellen flushes her pills away, packs up her kids, and plans to move on- -just when it looks like Jimmy may be breaking out of his stupor. The clichéd ending does not resolve a hitherto sensitive, probing story about the lasting scars of abuse. Lovely prose, but only for those who can stomach the content.
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1999
River, Cross My Heart
Book Jacket   Breena Clarke
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780316144230 An anemic first novel so well-intentioned that it's almost painful to point out its myriad deficiencies. In the mid-1920s, Willie Bynum and his wife Alice have moved from North Carolina to Georgetown, D.C., in hopes of a better life for themselves and their daughters, Johnnie Mae and Clara. They warn the girls never to swim in the Potomac River, but ten-year-old Johnnie Mae goes there anyway with a group of friends, and five-year-old Clara accidentally drowns. The novel's focus is blurred; Clarke can't seem to decide if the story is about the aftermath of a drowning, Johnnie Mae's coming of age, or the struggles of an African-American family new to the ways of the city. Unmemorable, underdeveloped characters come and go: a white woman who employs Alice; neighbors and relatives; an almost-mute girl Johnnie Mae befriends. Far too mature for a girl of ten, Johnnie Mae discovers swimming and suffers racial prejudice when she enters a competition. To demonstrate her independent mind, she and a friend sneak into a segregated pool to swim in the dead of night. None of these random events ever come together, though, and the significance of the birth of a baby boy to replace the dead Clara is never explored. Meanwhile, several chapters are little more than filler; late in the story, a beautician and her doctor admirer take up several pages, then fade away. We're told that Johnnie Mae's true father is a North Carolina Indian named Sam Logan, but this fact proves to be a red herring and is never utilized. Action is sparse, and the author lacks the linguistic facility necessary for a novel of ideas'not that there are many new ones here. Clarke's one strength is her use of seemingly authentic period details. Otherwise, an only fair-to-middling effort.
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1999
Tara Road
 Maeve Binchy
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780385315814 Once again, Binchy (The Glass Lake, 1995, etc.) memorably limns the lives of ordinary people caught in the traps sprung by life and loving hearts. When Danny Lynch and his young bride-to-be Ria Norris buy No. 16, a large, derelict Victorian house, Tara Road is a rundown Dublin street. Lovingly restored, the house soon becomes a gathering place as neighbors stop by to chat, help out, or eat one of Ria's delicious meals. Ria has loved handsome Danny, a realtor who works for high-flying property tycoon Barney McCarthy, since first meeting him. She enjoys managing her busy domestic life and two children, Annie and Brian; her friends, like Gertie, whose husband beats her; Colm, who's opened a restaurant nearby and worries about his drug-addicted sister; and Rosemary, a beautiful, unmarried businesswoman who owns one of No. 32's new apartments. But the summer when Annie is fourteen and Brian nine, Ria learns that Danny has been dallying with a ``fancy woman,'' now pregnant with his child, and that he wants to marry her. Stunned, Ria impulsively accepts an American woman's surprise telephone request to trade houses for the summer. Marilyn, living in New England, is married but still mourning the death of her teenaged son, Dale, and covets time alone. Once ensconced in her Connecticut home, Ria soon makes new friends, finds work as a caterer, and even begins dating'while also learning the truth about Dale's death. Meanwhile, in Dublin, Ria's pals continue to drop in, at first overwhelming Marilyn, who gradually involves herself in their lives, grows a garden, and discovers one friend's unsuspected betrayal of Ria. The two women, each strengthened by her season abroad, meet briefly before Marilyn flies home. Grateful for one another's support, each feels less heart-sore and more hopeful of happiness ahead. One of Binchy's best. (Book-of-the-month main selection; author tour)
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1999
Mother of Pearl
 Melinda Haynes
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780786864850 Newcomer Haynes writes swaying, shaded sentences in a promising debut that nicely realizes the atmosphere of Pearl, Mississippi, in the 1950s but that lacks an emotional decisiveness able to justify its prodigious length. What immediately strikes the reader is Haynes's style: grainy, rhythmic sentences whose music sometimes needs to be read aloud. As style, her prose is often beautiful and full of grace, but as communication it can be confusing, especially because one of the writer's narrative habits is to plop the reader down in the aftermath of an undescribed event and then describe it pages later. The story opens this way, and violently. A bottle is thrown at Canaan's head and he bleeds his way home. That incident sets the tone for the tale's other, mostly harmless oddities and personalities: Judy Tucson/Two Sun, who lives down by the river with sticks in her hair, issuing predictions given to her by the moon; lesbians Bea and Neva, guardians of Valuable, a motherless 15-year-old girl who furtively writes poetry and aches for companionship and love; Even Grade, a lonely young black man who falls in love with Judy; Jackson, a white boy who impregnates Valuable and leaves town; and Canaan himself, an elderly and sage janitor who reads Aeschylus and is composing a treatise on 'The Reality of the Negro.' Haynes's first is what might be called an 'atmospheric' novel: curiosities of dialect and strange usages richly evoke a Mississippi town. The plot itself'a simple affair in which Valuable dies during childbirth, followed by subsequent reconciliations among the story's participants'is a thin string along which Haynes drapes her alluring language and sensibility. Few of the characters, though, achieve permanence in the reader's memory. What lingers are moments, sayings, and the marvelous descriptions of sights and sounds in Pearl.
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1999
The Pilot's Wife
Book Jacket   Anita Shreve
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Though sacrificing depth and credibility for speed, Shreve's sixth (The Weight of Water, 1997, etc.) is another suspenseful portrait of a modern marriage rent by betrayal and loss. After her pilot husband's plane blows up off the coast of Ireland, Kathryn discovers bit by bit how little she knew Jack Lyons. First, she faces a media frenzy when the flight recorder makes clear that Jack was carrying a bomb in his flight bag. Her illusions of a her so-called good marriage crumble, despite her belief in the love she and Jack had and the need to keep Jack's memory pure for teenage daughter Mattie. As she navigates the dark days with the priest-like assistance of Robert, the pilot union's grievance expert, Kathryn increasingly feels compelled to come to grips with Jack's hidden life. Following up on a phone number she discovers among his papers, she and Robert go to London, where she finds Jack's other family: Muire, an unrepentant Irish beauty and former flight attendant, and her two young children. By now the plot is fairly screaming IRA bombers!, but instead of guns and M15 surveillance teams we get Kathryn's long, sad walk in the rain and an attempt at consolation by a now-doting Robert. The next morning, Kathryn, still lagging two beats behind the reader, has the whole thing explained to her at breakfast by a remorseful Muire, who's now forced to go on the run. Then Kathryn's staggered by Robert's revelation that he didn't come along just to keep her company-but that he's part of the investigation (though he makes no move to detain Muire). Kathryn sulks, but by story's end Robert is back in her good graces, his seeming betrayal well on its way to being forgotten. An evocative but obvious thriller, rather like a domesticated Patricia Highsmith, that keeps you reading--even as you're regretting the opportunities for intrigue and angst that the narrative consistently ignores. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1999
The Reader
Book Jacket   Bernhard Schlink
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A compact portrayal of a teenaged German boy's love affair with an emotionally remote older woman, and the troubled consequence of his discovery of who she really is and why she simultaneously needed him and rejected him. Seven years after their intimacy, university student Michael Berg accidentally learns that (now) 40ish Hannah Schmitz had concealed from him a past that reaches back to Auschwitz and had burdened her with nightmares from which her young lover was powerless to awaken her. Toward its climax, the novel becomes, fitfully, frustratingly abstract, but on balance this is a gripping psychological study that moves skillfully toward its surprising and moving conclusion. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1999
Jewel
 Bret Lott
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780671740382 An author of small domestic fictions (A Dream of Old Leaves, 1989; A Stranger's House, 1988; etc.) takes on larger issues in this resonant novel about simple people who reach a state of grace through human tragedy. Jewel and Leston Hilburn are poor Mississippi ``crackers'' and the glad parents of five ordinary children during WW II. Jewel- -whose strong, maternal voice narrates--hears the prophetic words that will change her life forever when Cathedral, a ``niggerwoman servant,'' tells her ``the baby you be carrying be your hardship, be yo test in this world.'' Five months after the birth of Brenda Kay, Jewel learns that this sixth and last child is a ``Mongolian Idiot,'' not expected to live beyond the age of two. But over the next 41 years Jewel realizes the ``giant blessing and curse of a retarded child''--her love for Brenda Kay so fierce and so blinding it runs roughshod over everyone else close to her. Rather than accept a future for her baby in a dead place, she nearly destroys Leston--the only man she's ever loved--by twice uprooting him from Mississippi to California. Consumed by rage and blame, she humiliates Cathedral, her one true friend, because of an accidental fire that leaves Brenda Kay scarred for life. She accepts emotional gaps with her other children--words spoken too late, an embrace interrupted--because she is so bound up in Brenda Kay's salvation. Yet, with all the sacrifice, the glory, and the pain, Brenda Kay's triumphs seem small in the end: she learns to whisper; she can hum a tuneless tune, she writes the letter B, she sometimes laughs. But, though she never grows beyond the mental age of six, Brenda Kay is deeply loved, her very existence a sign of ``the Lord smiling down'' on these good people. A quiet, at times slow-moving novel with exquisite moments of tenderness and the gift for elevating the commonplace to the sublime.
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1998
Where the Heart Is
 Billie Letts
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780446519724 A debut novel whose rose-colored glasses yield a happy-go- lucky portrait of the down-home lives of uneducated poor folks in Sequoyah, Oklahoma. Letts's determinedly optimistic novel portrays a world where all races coexist harmoniously, and where the splintery realities of American rural life--poverty, teen pregnancy, single motherhood, homelessness, child sexual abuse--are palatably presented beneath a thick coat of Brothers Grimm varnish. It all begins when Novalee Nation, 17, pregnant, and heading west in an old Plymouth, is abandoned en route by good-for-nothing boyfriend Willy Jack Pickens in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Not disturbed by this momentary setback, Novalee quickly befriends the local color: Sister Husband, an AA- convert who hands out Xeroxed chapters of the Bible; Moses Whitecotton, descendant of slaves and an infant-portrait photographer; Benny Goodluck, a Native American nursery owner who gives Novalee a buckeye tree; and Forney Hull, the town librarian. Penniless, Novalee lives in Wal-Mart until the birth of her daughter (Americus) on the store's floor makes her a temporary celebrity. The story continues to track Novalee and her quest for roots, history, and home, depending primarily on the quirky tics of its characters for forward motion and throwing in the occasional tragedy to jump-start the plot (Americus' kidnapping, a tornado, a few untimely deaths). By the close, loose ends are neatly sewn up, unrequited loves requited, and the underlying theme--home is where the heart is--pounded home. A simple, lighthearted depiction of a rural America that's not: entertaining, good for a tear or two, but lacking in substance. (Film rights to 20th Century Fox)
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1998
Midwives
Book Jacket   Chris Bohjalian
1998
What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
Book Jacket   Pearl Cleage
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780380975846 It takes talent to make a love story between an AIDS victim and a convicted murderer work, but playwright/essayist Cleage (Deals with the Devil, 1993, etc.) more than meets the challenge in this gutsy, very likable fiction debut. As a teenager, Ava Johnson couldn't wait to move away from tiny Idlewild, Michigan, a lakefront village originally conceived- -and enjoyed for decades--as a resort town for people of color. Now just a half-abandoned dot on the map like any other (except that most of the residents are still black), Idlewild offers the only safe haven when Ava, now nearly 30, learns she's contracted the HIV virus and is forced to close down her hair salon in Atlanta. Telling herself she's just visiting her older sister, Joyce, for a few weeks before she moves on to San Francisco, sophisticated Ava (whose voice is always feisty and humorous, even when the subject is death) is nevertheless impressed by bighearted Joyce's efforts to help the teenaged girls in her small community. She's also intrigued by handsome, sexily ``together'' Eddie Jefferson, a once- wild childhood acquaintance who's returned to Idlewild to raise vegetables, grow dreadlocks, and practice t'ai. While giving support to Joyce as she fights her conservative church for the right to teach birth to adolescents, and assisting (a bit skeptically) when Joyce takes in an addict's abandoned baby, Ava finds herself falling hard for sensitive, nurturing Eddie. Obviously, he's interested, too--but won't he run once he learns she's carrying the virus? Ava hardly dares hope for a final chance at love, even when Eddie reveals his own terrible--and, finally, forgivable--past. Lively, topical, and fantasy-filled. Watch out, Terry McMillan. Cleage is on your tail.
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1998
I Know This Much is True
 Wally Lamb
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780060391621 Both a moving character study and a gripping story of family conflict are hidden somewhere inside the daunting bulk of this annoyingly slick second novel by Lamb (the popular Oprah selection She's Come Undone, 1992). The character (and narrator) is Dominick Birdsey, a 40-year-old housepainter whose subdued life in his hometown of Three Rivers, Connecticut, is disturbed in 1990 when his identical twin brother Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic whose condition is complicated by religious mania, commits a shocking act of self-mutilation. The story is that of the embattled Birdseys, as recalled in Dominick's elaborated memory-flashbacks and in the ``autobiography'' (juxtaposed against the primary narrative) of the twins' maternal grandfather, Italian immigrant (and tyrannical patriarch) Domenico Tempesta. But Lamb combines these promising materials with overattenuated accounts of Dominick's crippled past (the torments inflicted on him and Thomas by an abusive stepfather, a luckless marriage, the crib death of his infant daughter), and with a heavy emphasis on the long-concealed identity of the twins' real father--a mystery eventually solved, not, as Dominick and we expect, in Domenico' self-aggrandizing story, but by a most surprising confession. This novel is derivative (of both Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides and the film Dominick and Eugene), it pushes all the appropriate topical buttons (child abuse, AIDS, New Age psychobabble, Native American dignity, and others), and it works a little too hard at wringing tears. But it's by no means negligible. Lamb writes crisp, tender-tough dialogue, and his portrayal of the decent, conflicted Dominick (who is forced, and blessed, to acknowledge that ``We were all, in a way, each other'') is convincing. The pathetic, destroyed figure of Thomas is, by virtue of its very opacity, both haunting and troubling. A probable commercial bonanza, but both twice as long and not as much as it should have been. (Book-of-the-Month Club main selection; author tour)
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1998
Breath, Eyes, Memory
 Edwidge Danticat
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9781569470053 Sexual traumas link a Haitian mother and her daughter in this wonderfully self-assured debut by 24-year-old Haitian-American Danticat. The world of Sophie Caco, her beloved guardian Tante Atie, and her grandmother Ifé, the matriarch of this peasant family, is bounded by the sugar-cane fields of rural Haiti. When 12-year-old Sophie is summoned to New York to live with the family provider, Maxine, the mother she cannot remember, she is dismayed. Maxine is perpetually tired after her nursing-home double-shift; she lives alone and dates a lawyer called Marc. She also tells Sophie that she is the product of a rape; a stranger forced himself on Maxine in a sugar-cane field. Seeing her daughter again has revived memories of the rape, and Maxine is suffering constant nightmares. Six years later, Sophie, who has never had a boyfriend, falls in love with their much older next-door neighbor Joseph, a black American jazz musician. Maxine follows a Haitian tradition and checks regularly to make sure Sophie is still a virgin. Horrified by this violation of her body, Sophie deflowers herself with a pestle and elopes with Joseph, enduring sex because she now hates her body, though her baby Brigitte is a consolation. Slowly, through her family's sheltering love on a return visit to Haiti and the new-world ministrations of her therapist, Sophie comes to understand her mother (``I knew my hurt and hers were links in a long chain''), but it's too late: Maxine, pregnant by Marc and racked by nightmares again, dies during a crude self-abortion. Danticat keeps graceful control of this difficult material while adroitly sketching the larger political context and making both peasants and pediatricians equally convincing. An impressive first outing.
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9781569470053 Sexual traumas link a Haitian mother and her daughter in this wonderfully self-assured debut by 24-year-old Haitian-American Danticat. The world of Sophie Caco, her beloved guardian Tante Atie, and her grandmother Ifé, the matriarch of this peasant family, is bounded by the sugar-cane fields of rural Haiti. When 12-year-old Sophie is summoned to New York to live with the family provider, Maxine, the mother she cannot remember, she is dismayed. Maxine is perpetually tired after her nursing-home double-shift; she lives alone and dates a lawyer called Marc. She also tells Sophie that she is the product of a rape; a stranger forced himself on Maxine in a sugar-cane field. Seeing her daughter again has revived memories of the rape, and Maxine is suffering constant nightmares. Six years later, Sophie, who has never had a boyfriend, falls in love with their much older next-door neighbor Joseph, a black American jazz musician. Maxine follows a Haitian tradition and checks regularly to make sure Sophie is still a virgin. Horrified by this violation of her body, Sophie deflowers herself with a pestle and elopes with Joseph, enduring sex because she now hates her body, though her baby Brigitte is a consolation. Slowly, through her family's sheltering love on a return visit to Haiti and the new-world ministrations of her therapist, Sophie comes to understand her mother (``I knew my hurt and hers were links in a long chain''), but it's too late: Maxine, pregnant by Marc and racked by nightmares again, dies during a crude self-abortion. Danticat keeps graceful control of this difficult material while adroitly sketching the larger political context and making both peasants and pediatricians equally convincing. An impressive first outing.
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1998
Black and Blue
Book Jacket   Anna Quindlen
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Pulitzer--winning columnist and novelist Quindlen (One True Thing, 1994, etc.) now takes a talk-show staple--spousal abuse--and gives it a compelling immediacy in a refreshingly wise and troth-telling novel about life and marriage. Frannie, a nurse, fell deeply in love with Bobby, a handsome New York cop who at the time seemed attractively ""tasty and dangerous,"" as well as kind and thoughtful. But after 17 years of marriage, Bobby has become more dangerous than appealing. Tired of being beaten up, and now coping with a broken nose, Fran takes her ten-year-old son Robert and flees their Brooklyn home. Helped by a women's organization, she and Robert are given new identities and a new place to live: a duplex in Florida. Now known as Beth Crenshaw, Frannie also tries to make a new life for herself and Robert, whom she loves with a fierce and protective devotion. She finds a good friend in the resilient Cindy and a satisfying job as a visiting health aide. She grows close to her patients, especially Mrs. Levitt, a Holocaust survivor. But Frannie can't relax her vigilance: Bobby has resources and investigating tools that might make it easy to find her, and so while her life is increasingly normal--she dates Mike, Robert's nice soccer coach--she's still afraid. The tension is nail-biting but nicely complemented by perceptive insights, as in Frannie's meditation that ""whenever I thought about leaving, I thought about leaving my house . . . balloon shades and miniblinds . . . mugs for the coffee . . . small things; routine, order that's what kept me there for the longest time."" Inevitably, Bobby catches up with her and exacts a terrible revenge, but an appropriately bittersweet ending gives Fran, who'll always wonder whether she was right to flee, a new love and life. Quindlen writes about women as they really are--neither helpless victims nor angry polemicists, but intelligent human beings struggling to do what's right for those they love and for themselves. A book to read and savor. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1998
Here on Earth
Book Jacket   Alice Hoffman
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780399143137 From the author of Practical Magic (1995), among others, a kind of inside-out Bridges of Madison County in which the middle- aged mother of a teenager falls in love with a bad man, leaves her husband for him, and winds up abused and isolated. The results are predictably depressing. It might seem that March Murray has purely sentimental reasons for leaving her apparently happy life in California (nice house, professor husband) to attend her former housekeeper's funeral in Jenkintown, Mass., the bleak, suffocatingly tiny town where she grew up. After all, Mrs. Dale did help March's father raise her after the girl's mother died, and she remained a loyal friend until her death. But anyone who knew March in her teenage years must suspect that her real reason for returning with sullen teenage daughter in tow is for a reunion with Hollis, the bad boy March was once inseparable from. An abandoned child and the product of a series of detention homes, Hollis was brought to the Murray house as a charity-case boarder when he was in his teens. He kept his own counsel, except when sending smoldering glances March's way. The two became lovers until a misunderstanding split them apart--March to marry the rich boy next door, Hollis to amass a fortune, marry March's sister-in-law, and survive her to wait, brooding, for March's return. Their heated reunion leads to the breakup of March's marriage, and, despite the warnings of practically everyone in town, March moves into Hollis's gloomy mansion, puts up with his neurotic possessiveness, and watches him scare her daughter back to California before she realizes that the Hollis she lives with now is nothing but the evil, heartless relic of the wounded boy she once loved. A chilly, hopeless love story with an unhappy conclusion. Hard to see what readers will find to like in such a tale. (First printing of 100,000; Literary Guild featured alternate selection; $150,000 ad/promo; author tour)
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1998
Paradise
 Toni Morrison
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 'The Hollywood Reporter' reports today that billionaire/media mogul/TV show host/magazine publisher/former poverty-stricken Mississippian/book champion/actor/film producer Oprah Winfrey has settled on Toni Morrison's 1998 novel 'Paradise' as her next telefilm adaptation. 'Paradise' was Morrison's first novel following her awarding of the Nobel Prize. In late 1997, before Knopf released the book, 'Kirkus Reviews,' in a starred review, called it "a breathtaking, risk-taking major work that will have readers feverishly, and fearfully turning the pages." The review in full: "The violence men inflict on women and the painful irony of an "all-black town" whose citizens themselves become oppressors are the central themes of Morrison's rich, symphonic seventh novel (after Jazz, 1992, etc.). "The story begins with a scene of Faulknerian intensity: In 1976, in rural Oklahoma, nine men from the nearby town of Ruby attack a former convent now occupied by women fleeing from abusive husbands or lovers, or otherwise unhappy pasts--"women who chose themselves for company," whose solidarity and solitude rebuke the male-dominated culture that now exacts its revenge. That sounds simplistic, but the novel isn't, because Morrison makes of it a many-layered mystery, interweaving the individual stories of these women with an amazingly compact social history of Ruby's "founding" families and their interrelationships over several decades. It all comes at us in fragments, and we gradually piece together the tale of black freedmen after the Civil War gradually acquiring land and power, taking pride in the culture they've built--vividly symbolized by a memorial called "the Oven," the site of a communal field kitchen into whose stone is etched the biblical command "Beware the Furrow of His Brow." That wrathful prophecy is fulfilled as the years pass, feuds between families and even a rivalry between twin brothers grow ever more dangerous, and in the wake of "the desolation that rose after King's murder," Ruby succumbs to militancy; a Black Power fist is painted on the Oven, and the handwriting is on the wall. With astonishing fluency, Morrison connects the histories of the Convent's insulted and injured women with that of the community they oppose but cannot escape. Only her very occasional resort to digressive (and accusatory) summary (e.g., "They think they have outfoxed the whiteman when in fact they imitate him") mars the pristine surface of an otherwise impeccably composed, deeply disturbing story. "Not perfect--but a breathtaking, risk-taking major work that will have readers feverishly, and fearfully turning the pages." Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1997
The Meanest Thing to Say
 Bill Cosby
Horn Book (c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. 9780590137546 Fiction: Y Horn Rating: Marginal, seriously flawed, but with some redeeming quality. Reviewed by: jch (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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1997
The Treasure Hunt
Book Jacket   Bill Cosby
Horn Book (c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. 9780590163996 Fiction: Y Cosby presents Little Bill with difficult situations (discovering his own talents, coping with a bully, and wanting a video game his parents won't buy him), then has adult characters suggest the solutions in these disappointingly didactic volumes. Although Honeywood's stylized, color-saturated paintings are appealing, they can't compensate for the texts' heavy-handed treatments. Horn Rating: Marginal, seriously flawed, but with some redeeming quality. Reviewed by: jch (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780590163996 In the new Little Bill series for beginning readers, Little Bill figures that his father has a prized collection of jazz LPs, his brother has a stack of classic baseball cards, and his mother owns a silver serving platter--so what does he have that's special? Enter his great-grandmother Alice, who hears his complaint, asks for a story, and laughs at the silly episode he concocts. Bill realizes that he has something special after all- -an ability to tell stories. Emerging readers will skip past Professor Alvin Poussaint's opening letter to parents but won't be able to dodge the bluntly delivered lesson in this three- chapter esteem-builder. Honeywood's brightly colored domestic scenes, painted in a flat, folksy style, add plenty of visual energy, and the pleasure each member of Little Bill's family takes in his or her special thing lightens the book's obvious didactic intent. (Fiction. 6-8)
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1997
The Best Way to Play
Book Jacket   Bill Cosby
Horn Book (c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. 9780590137560 Fiction: Y Horn Rating: Marginal, seriously flawed, but with some redeeming quality. Reviewed by: jch (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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1997
Ellen Foster
 Kaye Gibbons
  Book Jacket
1997
A Virtuous Woman
 Kaye Gibbons
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A straight and true, if somewhat unusual, love is at the heart of this sweet and folksy novella by the much celebrated author of Ellen Foster. Blinking Jack Ernest Stokes (""stokes the fire, stokes the stove, stokes the fiery furnace of hell!"") shares with his younger wife, Ruby Pitt Woodrow Stokes, ""a quiet kind of love,"" born of Jack's essential goodness and Ruby's gratitude. When she first met Jack, her second husband, she was stuck in a horrible marriage to a drinking and cheating migrant worker, who had wooed her with lies and given her a mean and lowdown life. Before running off with nasty John Woodrow at 18, Ruby was the sheltered daughter of a modestly prosperous farmer, and planned on attending college. In one of her charming monologues (which alternate with Jack's), Ruby blames her movie-fed imagination for the mistake from which she cannot turn back. And Woodrow's taunts about Ruby's ""uppity"" background inspires her only vice, the smoking that eventually leads to lung cancer at 45, much to the dismay of gentle Jack, himself 65 at the time. While Ruby's chapters are told in anticipation of her impending death, Jack's look back from the months after the fact, recalling Woodrow's timely murder in a pool-hall fight, Jack and Ruby's odd courtship, and their 25 years of a loving marriage. A tall and skinny tenant farmer, Jack works for his buddy Burr Stanley, a former tenant who married the spoiled, slovenly, knocked-up daughter of the landlord. As much a testament to the unlikely love of Jack and Ruby, this quirky little book also captures in its final chapter--the only one in the third person--the depths of Jack's loneliness and despair after Ruby's gone. Other than his devoted friendship, and a share in his daughter's love (Jack and Ruby couldn't have their own kids), Burr gives Jack the only thing left--a piece of land to call his own. Gibbons flirts with kitsch--one memory recalls a six-year-old girl in a bedful of puppies--but her good country sense argues for a grace and virtue beyond mere sentimentality, and unaffected by religiosity. There's much charm--and a lot of wisdom--in her rural romance. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1997
A Lesson Before Dying
Book Jacket   Ernest Gaines
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780679414773 Two black men (one a teacher, the other a death row inmate) struggle to live, and die, with dignity, in Gaines's most powerful and moving work since The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971). The year is 1948. Harry Truman may have integrated the Armed Forces, but down in the small Cajun town of Bayonne, Louisiana, where the blacks still shuffle submissively for their white masters, little has changed since slavery. When a white liquor- store owner is killed during a robbery attempt, along with his two black assailants, the innocent black bystander Jefferson gets death, despite the defense plea that ``I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.'' Hog. The word lingers like a foul odor and weighs as heavily as the sentence on Jefferson and the woman who raised him, his ``nannan'' (godmother) Miss Emma. She needs an image of Jefferson going to his death like a man, and she turns to the young teacher at the plantation school for help. Meanwhile, Grant Wiggins (the narrator) has his own problems. He loves his people but hates himself for teaching on the white man's terms; visiting Jefferson in jail will just mean more kowtowing, so he goes along reluctantly, prodded by his strong-willed Tante Lou and his girlfriend Vivian. The first visits are a disaster: Jefferson refuses to speak and will not eat his nannan's cooking, which breaks the old lady's heart. But eventually Grant gets through to him (``a hero does for others''); Jefferson eats Miss Emma's gumbo and astonishes himself by writing whole pages in a diary--a miracle, water from the rock. When he walks to the chair, he is the strongest man in the courthouse. By containing unbearably painful emotions within simple declarative sentences and everyday speech rhythms, Gaines has written a novel that is not only never maudlin, but approaches the spare beauty of a classic.
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1997
Songs in Ordinary Time
Book Jacket   Mary McGarry Morris
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780670860142 From the justly touted author of Vanished (a 1988 NBA nominee) and A Dangerous Woman (1991) comes this panoramic view of small- town lifea novel infused with empathy for the flawed and failed who live there. Set in the summer of 1960, the story details how the Fermoyle family and their neighbors are nearly destroyed by a dangerous con man, Omar Duvall. When 12-year-old Benjy Fermoyle witnesses a murder in the woods above his Vermont hometown, then sees the murderer, Omar, appear later that evening with flowers for his mother, Marie, he is not surprised, and tells no one: Benjy has known forever that Omar's coming was ``as inevitable as the summer's fiery sun, and as unstoppable.'' Posing as a peddlar, Omar soon insinuates himself into the family by shrewdly flattering them. Lonely Marie, who gets no help from alcoholic ex-husband Sam in raising Alice, Norm, and young Benjy, is especially vulnerable to his attentions. She not only provides Omar with food and shelter but forges signatures so she can get a loan to invest in the get- rich soap-selling scheme he's touting. As the summer progresses, subplots unfold that parallel and often connect with the Fermoyles' fate: The local police chief has an affair while his wife lies dying; a young priest falls in love with Alice; an insurance salesman, besotted with his wife (a former showgirl), takes to crime; and Sam tries to dry out and get his family back. Meanwhile, the novel gains its thriller-like tension from the children's complex relationship with Omar, a man who makes their mother happy but is increasingly revealed to be both bad and dangerous. By summer's end, ``the malevolence in the air'' has finally dissipated, and the Fermoyles are on surer ground. A grand sweep of a novel: Morris, like a contemporary Dickens, creates a world teeming with incident and characters often foolish, even nasty, but always alive and in your face. (First printing of 75,000; $75,000 ad/promo)
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1997
The Heart of a Woman
 Maya Angelou
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Another installment in Angelou's remarkable autobiography--beginning with would-be singer Maya in 1957 California: trying commune life; moving to L.A. with teenage son Guy; playing uneasy hostess to dying Billie Holliday--a ""lonely sick woman, with a waterfront mouth"" who both cursed and lullabied Guy . . . and interrupted Maya's nightclub act with a mini-review (""Stop that bitch. She sounds just like my goddam mamma""). But most of this book finds Maya in N.Y., living in Brooklyn and joining the Harlem Writers Guild--a mutual-criticism group of necessary harshness: ""Publishers don't care much for white writers. . . . You can imagine what they think about black ones."" Little writing gets done, however, because, after one final singing fling (at the Apollo), Maya finds herself galvanized by a Martin Luther King speech: she and Godfrey Cambridge (""his white teeth were like flags of truce"") organize a fundraising cabaret for King's SCLC; then, to her surprise, Maya is offered the job of Northern coordinator; and this soon leads her to South African rebel diplomat Vus Make--a sleek, charismatic hero who, on the virtual eve of Maya's wedding to a lusty bail-bondsman, sweeps her into quasi-marriage--first in NY (where Maya acts in The Blacks and leads a protest march on the UN after Lumumba's assassination) and then in Cairo, where she rebels against Vus' male-chauvinism by getting a journalism job. Finally, however, fed up with Vus' tyrannies, infidelities, and unpaid bills, Maya takes off (after braving an African-style divorce-by-debate), puts Guy in college in Ghana, and breathes a sigh of relief: ""At last, I'll be able to eat the whole breast of a roast chicken by myself."" Don't look for political history here: Angelou doesn't pause much for reexaminations, and some of the sociological musings are shaky (as when she explains a black teen-gang simply as a response to racism). But the mother-son relationship is touchingly explored, the fire of the times is rekindled with eloquence, and Maya herself--brandishing a pistol to defend her son or wrassling with Vus in the Waldorf Astoria lobby--remains funny, tough, and vulnerable as she keeps on surprising herself with what she can do: a great lady moving right on through a great memoir. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1997
The Rapture of Canaan
 Sheri Reynolds
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780399141126 A second tragedy-laden southern coming-of-age tale from Reynolds (Bitterroot Landing, 1995)--this one, set in a strict and punitive religious community, with a good, gothic allure despite its lamentably plodding prose. Ninah Huff is 14 when she really begins to chafe at the confines of her small world. Her grandpa Herman, founder of the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind, keeps harsh control over their small South Carolina community, which is populated mostly by Ninah's extended family. Those who stray from the righteous path know to expect treatment that can range from whippings with a leather strap to sleeping overnight in a newly dug grave. And Grandpa Herman is always ready with Scripture to justify any of these punishments. Ninah, meanwhile, finds herself dreaming more and more about forbidden things, especially her strong physical attraction to James, one of the few boys around who's not her blood kin. When she winds up pregnant, it sparks tragedy within her family and shock waves throughout the community. But Ninah insists that she's not guilty of the sin of fornication, that what she and James did together was a form of pure prayer. And, sure enough, when baby Canaan is born, he appears to bear a sign from God--his hands are joined at the palms like someone perpetually praying. Grandpa Herman proclaims him the New Messiah, and he's taken away from Ninah to be raised by others. This time out, Reynolds burdens her story with some unworkable metaphors--a rug that grins?--and much awkward dialogue, but, in all, she creates a strongly compelling tension between family feeling and religious fervor. The fate of Ninah and her son is uncertain until the small epiphany (or, really, anti-epiphany) at book's end--a moment that seems just right. Fire and brimstone that goes tepid at times but is really chilling overall. (Literary Guild alternate selection; author tour)
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1997
Stones from the River
Book Jacket   Ursula Hegi
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780671780753 Life in small-town Germany (1915-52) as chronicled by Trudi, a dwarf with her own agenda--courtesy of the German-born Hegi (Floating in My Mother's Palm, 1990, etc.) Trudi, whose birth drove her beautiful mother into madness and early death, carries a heavy burden. Her mother's madness was caused not by horror at Trudi's appearance but from guilt: while her husband was away fighting in WW I, she--pregnant--had an affair with his best friend. Trudi, then, a victim of guilt and madness, is an obvious metaphor for Germany--a witness for the prosecution, ``an underground messenger safeguarding her stories.'' Over the years she watches, listens, and slyly trades secrets for other secrets to add to her arsenal of information about the town. She, too, has allowed herself to be consumed by vengeance and hatred. Taunted and sexually assaulted as a young girl by four local boys, she had wished them ill, plotted their destruction, and now, when they all suffer, she begins to understand the corrosive power of hatred. Meanwhile, the town itself is a microcosm of German history as Trudi records its response to the economically distressed 1920's, the rise of Hitler, the growing anti-Semitism, and the postwar years when everyone wants to forget or deny their Nazi past. A slew of characters flesh out these events: courageous Frau Eberhart, whose Nazi son betrays her; Leon Montag, Trudi's wise and brave father; her lover Max, who is killed in the Dresden bombing; and friend Ingrid, who, obsessed by sexual guilt, commits suicide. Trudi, with her own share of sorrows and joys, survives to tell her story--all about ``what to enhance and what to relinquish. And what to embrace.'' Small-town life and the familiar Third Reich horrors are vividly evoked, but Trudi herself is more problematical. Trying to be too much--including a female alter ego for Gunter Grass's dwarf drummer--she is never quite in focus or really credible.
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1997
She's Come Undone
Book Jacket   Wally Lamb
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780671759209 A tremendously likable first novel about the catastrophe- marked childhood, youth, and mangled adulthood of a tough-fibered woman who almost beaches herself in guilt and grief. Terrible things are about to happen to Dolores Price, only child of brittle, vulnerable Bernice and weak, randomly abusive Tony. Tony leaves Bernice sometime after the stillbirth of their son, and after a week playing with little Dolores in a new backyard pool, when the child expects a lifetime of floating with Daddy. Then Bernice completely flips out and goes to a mental hospital; Dolores is taken to live with Grandma in Rhode Island on Pierce Street (which ``smelled of car exhaust and frying food. Glass shattered, people screamed, kids threw rocks''). Later, Ma returns and works collecting tolls on the Newport Bridge, while friendless Dolores attends a corrosive parochial school. But all welcome Grandma's new tenant, dazzling Jack, a radio DJ who, when Dolores is 13, rapes her in a dog pound. The person Dolores runs to is heart-of-gold Roberta, empress of the Peacock Tattoo Emporium across the street. In spite of the strangled but loyal love of Ma and Grandma, the palship of Roberta, and the kindness of a gentle gay guidance-counsellor, Dolores is about to go under. She becomes a mountain of fat, and soon is convinced that she's responsible for the death of Jack's baby--but also of Bernice, who's killed by a car. At a Pennsylvania college, Dolores knows that her destiny is to ``kill what people love.'' There's some good psychiatry and a bad marriage before the peaceful and upbeat close. Lamb has a broad satiric touch with some satisfying fat targets (the warfare of Pierce Street, etc.). And in spite of hard, hard times and crazy coincidences, Dolores' career is a pleasure to follow, as she barrels through--with a killer mouth and the guts of a sea lion. A warmblooded, enveloping tale of survival, done up loose and cheering.
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1996
The Book of Ruth
 Jane Hamilton
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The country folk in Hamilton's first novel lead plain, hard, impoverished lives--on a good day. When things get bad, there's brutality, bestiality, and no small amount of bloodshed. These are the same raw ingredients used by Flannery O'Connor and Carolyn Chute, but Hamilton does not share their sharp, tragicomic vision. Her rural Illinois characters are blunted by the meanness of their lives. Some escape, others just wait it out until they die. Ruth, the narrator, is caught somewhere in between. Suffering through a thoroughly rotten childhood--she's abandoned by her father Elmer, verbally lacerated by her mother May, and constantly compared, unfavorably, to her prodigy brother Matthew--she finds comfort in carrying on a secret correspondence with her beautiful Aunt Sid, who believes in her. Later, while employed as a helper to a blind neighbor, Ruth gets hooked on good books while listening to recordings of the classics, and things bode well--she's going places. But, somehow, it never happens. Ruth goes to work at the dry cleaners, along with May. She takes up bowling. And then she marries Ruby, a sweet, confused former gas-station attendant who likes to spend his days smoking dope and adoring her. They live with acid-tongued May for a few long, hard winters and, finally, inevitably, violence erupts, shattering Ruth's life. Hamilton's writing is strong and clear, even if her intentions are a trifle obscure. She gives Ruth plenty of spark but then lets her fizzle, surprisingly, before our eyes. Whatever the message is, it's not bright with hope. Still, this is an affecting first novel, dark and knowing. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1996
Song of Solomon
 Toni Morrison
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. When you know your name, you should hang on to it, for unless it is noted down and remembered, it will die when you die."" And the scribbled no-name ""Macon Dead,"" given to a newly freed black man by a drunken Union Army officer, has stained out a family's real name for three generations, and then we meet the third ""Macon Dead,"" called ""Milkman."" Raised among the sour hatreds of the richest black family in a Michigan town, Milkman learns not to love or make commitments, learns to turn away from his father's hard, tight greed, his mother's unloved passivity, his sisters' sterile virginity. He stands apart from his outcast aunt Pilate (a figure reminiscent of Sula, living beyond all reason), a ""raggedy bootlegger"" who keeps her name in a box threaded to one ear. And he stands above the wild untidy adoration of his cousin Hagar, above the atrocities against blacks in the 1950s, even while his friend organizes a black execution squad. However, when Milkman's father opens the door to a family past of murder and flight, Milkman--in order to steal what he believes is gold--begins the cleansing Odyssean journey. His wanderings will take him through a wilderness of rich and wonderful landscapes murmuring with old tales, those real names becoming closer and more familiar. He beholds eerie appearances (an ancient Circe ringed with fight-eyed dogs)--and hears the electric singing of children, which holds within it the pulse of truth. Like other black Americans, Milkman's retrieval of identity from obliteration helps him to shake off the ""Dead"" no-name state of his forebears. And, like all people, his examination of the past gives him a perspective that liberates the capacity for love. Morrison's narration, accomplished with such patient delicacy, is both darkly tense and exuberant; fantastic events and symbolic embellishments simply extend and deepen the validity and grace of speech and character. The gut-soul of Roots, with which this will be recklessly, inevitably linked, and a handsome display of a major talent. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1996
The Deep End of the Ocean
Book Jacket   Jacquelyn Mitchard
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780670865796 Madison, Wisconsin, newspaper columnist Mitchard (Mother Less Child: The Love Story of a Family, 1985) makes a splash with her first novel--a lush melodrama centered around the kidnapping of a three-year-old boy--and keeps us turning the pages long after the brain synapses have gone to sleep. Too sharp-tongued and disorganized to make the five-star rating in the neighborhood's ideal-mother competition, Beth Cappadora nevertheless considered herself a good enough parent until three-year-old Ben, the second and sunniest of her three children, disappears from a Chicago hotel lobby while Beth is checking in. In town for her 15th high-school reunion, Beth searches the neighborhood, calls the police, and gets drunk before the truth dawns: The child has been snatched and is not coming back. The days, weeks, months, and years that follow are a nightmare for the Cappadora family back home in Madison, Wis., as Beth sleeps most of her days away, unable to connect with her increasingly disturbed son Vincent, who was supposed to have been watching Ben, and her daughter. Beth falteringly resumes her freelance photography career and husband Pat halfheartedly pursues his goal of opening a restaurant in Chicago. The restaurant is a success, the family moves back to the now-hated Windy City, and Vincent causes increasingly serious trouble as his guilt over his brother's disappearance festers. Then a miracle happens: Beth opens her door to find a boy offering to mow her lawn, a boy who looks exactly like, who must be, her baby boy Ben. . . . Workaday prose and fist-clenching earnestness combine to make this an exceptionally promising movie treatment, if not a work of literary greatness. Mitchard's Good Mother-like eye for hot family melodrama should keep her rolling in dough. (First printing of 100,000; $100,000 ad/promo; film rights to Mandalay; author tour)
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