Easy entertainment, from a still-imitative writer who may grow.

HEADLOCK

Berlin debuts with a deft but conventional tale of youth and anger, in a fictional house of toughness resting on a thin psychological foundation.

Dess (short for Odessa) Rose went to college on a wrestling scholarship but blew everything when, after losing a match, he attacked his opponent with a chair. Trigger-tempered Dess got his diploma, but only cloaked in shame, and when we meet him he’s living in Manhattan, parking cars in a garage, and picking barfights—in which he brutalizes, throws, tromps, and smashes his victims, then runs hard through the night until he gets “it” out of him. The “it” is apparently rage he’s stored up from a life of triple woe: having academic parents who think he should do more with himself than wrestle; having a nerdy kid brother praised for straight A’s; and having had a Russian immigrant grandfather who was also a fighter and, via fist and brawn, did legendary good deeds for his grateful family. Sensing no such gratitude now, the strong, angry, wound-licking Dess is the perfect sidekick needed by cousin Gary Rose, the 400-pounder, professional gambler, and other family failure who stops by the garage and talks Dess into heading for Vegas, that very night, via Jaguar. As the two drive cross-country day and night, they reminisce about family and childhood, while gradually the deep trouble Gary’s in comes clear: guaranteed special treatment by thugs if, at the blackjack tables, he can’t earn back a huge debt very fast. Dess is a quick learner at counting cards, a code is agreed on, and the two work the tables, waiting—and waiting—for the “streak” Gary is sure will come. There will be fear, sex, suspense—and mountains of food eaten by Gary at the free buffets—before an ending that will doubtless rivet some while sweeping others back to the popcorn palaces of their youth.

Easy entertainment, from a still-imitative writer who may grow.

Pub Date: May 12, 2000

ISBN: 1-56512-266-6

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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