Gilvarry is a talented writer and observer, but the satirical elements could have been better tailored.


A would-be fashion mogul comes to America to pursue the American Dream, only to wind up wearing an orange Gitmo jumpsuit.

Gilvarry’s debut novel aspires to be an allegory about how immigrant ambition has become stifled in the wake of post-9/11 paranoia. The narrator, Boyet Hernandez, arrives in New York City from the Philippines in 2002, eager to pursue a career in haute couture. But the reader knows immediately that his dreams were dashed: The novel is written in the form of a prison memoir, composed at the suggestion of his jailers as he awaits judgment from a military tribunal for allegedly consorting with terrorists. Chapters begin with observations about the camp’s cramped quarters and barely humane regulations, but the story mostly focuses on Boyet (nicknamed Boy) as he makes his slow rise in the fashion world, consorting with models, begging for favors from established designers and hustling for financing. That last effort is what gets him in trouble, because his main patron is a sketchy landlord who possesses a questionable amount of weaponize-able fertilizer. Gilvarry keeps the tone of the story lightly satirical without diminishing the seriousness of Boy’s predicament, and he skillfully captures the frenetic world of striving designers and Brooklyn hipsters. The novel’s chief flaws have more to do with structure than tone. Characters in the story besides Boy rarely become more than strictly functional (a publicist with the unfortunate name of Ben Laden is a thin signifier of law-enforcement ineptitude), and shifting between Boy’s incarceration and Manhattan memories grows repetitive and undramatic until the closing pages. A fashion writer’s faux annotations add little, and his afterword closes the book on a melodramatic note that clashes with Boy’s character.

Gilvarry is a talented writer and observer, but the satirical elements could have been better tailored.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02319-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2011

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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