A rambling effort to squeeze big themes inside a partners-in-crime frame.



An aging storekeeper and her adopted prodigal son team up to sell cocaine out of an inner-city delicatessen.

Luther Hightree and Gussie Steinberg are the central characters in this often-meandering story of loyalty and love transcending race and time. Luther is only 6 when Gussie and her husband, Sol, take him into their home after his birth mother, a substance-abusing prostitute, freezes to death in an alley. The Steinbergs’ acceptance of the boy is striking in no small part because Luther is black and they are white Jews, whose grocery operates in a poor, black neighborhood. The Steinbergs raise Luther under the resentful eye of their biological son, Maxwell, who soon strikes out for Harvard, while Luther simply leaves home with no announcement. Fox takes his time setting up the plot, devoting almost half the book to back stories, some of them tangential. The action picks up only when Luther returns after the death of Sol and proposes that he and Gussie use the family store as a drug trafficking front. Things change overnight. The name of the business and the selection of goods moves upmarket, along with the clientele, as Luther’s white buyers from a previous life turn up in droves. The authorities take notice of the “strange partnership” that has materialized so abruptly, and the consequences are inevitable. While the novel strives to create empathy for its characters through their shared suffering, many will be put off by its glib portrayal of “ghetto” life and the heavy-handed usage of racial epithets. Passages are also marred by three-dollar words—“condign,” “poltroon,” “revenant,” “rictus,” “simulacrum” and so on—in a story that would be better served by plainer language.

A rambling effort to squeeze big themes inside a partners-in-crime frame.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1477641415

Page Count: 278

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2012

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These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.


Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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