An enjoyable but lightweight novel about a Jewish boy's awakening.

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A STRANGER ON THE PLANET

A Jewish boy from a fractured family learns the meaning of forgiveness and understanding in a seriocomic epic that takes him from New Jersey to Chicago to Cambridge, Mass.

Schwartz's first novel is solidly entrenched in the tradition of Jewish coming-of-age fiction. The book opens in 1969, when 12-year-old Seth Shapiro's mentally shaky mother Ruth, still furious that her wealthy medical-researcher husband left her for a French postdoctoral student, marries a loser she just met at a Catskills resort. The marriage, a quick flop, is one of numerous domestic disasters with which the perpetually alienated Seth and his intimately close twin sister Sarah must contend. They also share the unsettling experience of hearing a fat, married lawyer have sex with their mother during a visit to his Long Island summer home. When they visit their father at his Cape Cod home with their younger brother Seamus, he treats them only slightly less coldly than his uptight French wife, who brings out upstart Seth's knack for getting in trouble—or skirting it. As a student, he achieves early success with a story largely lifted from the work of Saul Bellow, and ends up for the wrong reasons at the University of Chicago Divinity School. As well-written and thoughtful as it is, the book never overcomes a certain secondhand quality itself. There's nothing especially fresh about Seth or his story, or Schwartz's treatment of fiction as a curative for real life. The comic touches are never more than amusing, and its serious themes never more than lightly affecting, or sentimental. Seth's sexual encounters—with an all-knowing teen who schools him in oral sex under the stars, a smart Jewish girl who turns out to be lesbian, an auburn-haired gentile who pursues him after seeing his standup act—are entertaining. But they seem based more in male fantasy than fictional reality.           

An enjoyable but lightweight novel about a Jewish boy's awakening.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-56947-869-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2010

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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