Plenty of coming-of-age novels are more cohesive and coherent than this.


A prize-winning, controversy-stirring novel in the author’s native Italy, this debut won’t likely have a similar impact Stateside.

Piperno’s novel depends almost entirely on the voice of its first-person narrator, 33-year-old Daniel Sonnino. And though Sonnino says that he’s a fledgling novelist (as well as the author of the scholarly All the Anti-Semitic Jews: From Otto Weininger to Philip Roth, something of a scandal in academic circles), his narration lacks the most rudimentary elements of most fiction: plot momentum, character development, introspection, a compelling voice. Instead, this extended monologue proceeds in fits and starts, digressions and disjunctions, that keep circling toward the romantic triangle that gives the last quarter of the novel its focus. Up till then, Daniel is primarily a bystander, and not a terribly observant one, as he details his family’s descent from riches to socially marginal, and his own identity crises as the son of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. Plainly, themes of ethnicity aren’t all that Piperno has transplanted from Philip Roth, for Sonnino is both a fetishist and a compulsive masturbator, as well as a participant or bystander in plenty of other bodily perversions and embarrassments (flatulence and worse). And references to Roth are but a small part of the novel’s literary name-dropping, as the text makes mention of Tolstoy, Hemingway, Twain, Austen, Fitzgerald (or at least Gatsby), both Arthur and Henry Miller, David Leavitt and Bret Easton Ellis. Either Sonnino is more of a literary construct than a cohesive, convincing character, or Piperno is showing off his library. (Or both.) In addition to the tension between Catholic and Jew, the novel encompasses the cultural differences of Italy, Israel and America. Ultimately, it challenges the reader to weave together the various strands to discover how the different fates of two grandfathers, partners and then rivals, leave legacies that lead to the unrequited love that humiliates the narrator.

Plenty of coming-of-age novels are more cohesive and coherent than this.

Pub Date: July 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-933372-33-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2007

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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