Intelligent but unsatisfying.



Marshall’s fifth novel subtly examines the fault-lines of a 20-year-old marriage.

As in her previous work (Something Borrowed, 1997, etc.), the author emphasizes character more than plot; the most hectic thing that actually happens to Audrey Brennan, a 49-year-old Cleveland nurse, occurs in the first chapter when she’s accepted into medical school—a milestone that provokes nothing but resentment from her family. Her mother blames Audrey’s audacity on ’60s feminism, while her two daughters—one a college student, the other a high-school junior—scoff at her decision as a “midlife crisis.” Worst of all, Audrey’s husband Gregory, 14 years her elder and ready to retire from a long, distinguished career as a judge, interprets Audrey’s surprise announcement as the revelation of a deliberate deceit. With his wife just verging on middle age, Gregory is ready to leave it; while he’s “already seen everything, some of it twice,” she is yearning for more experience. Added to the fray is Gregory’s crippling grief over the death of his protégé, Judge Robert Wallace, and his longing to be a father figure to Wallace’s young sons. One of the story’s more interesting themes is the legacy of feminism: Gregory came of age before it, Audrey during it (she was at Kent State in 1970), and for the first time in their long marriage this discrepancy begins to affect the relationship. Marshall, a keen observer of generational difference, creates ample sympathy for her people and their small concerns. The Court of Common Pleas will likely appeal to readers with lives similar to Audrey’s and Gregory’s, but for everyone else the effects are rather too subtle: even with such well-drawn characters inhabiting it, the plot remains thin.

Intelligent but unsatisfying.

Pub Date: July 17, 2001

ISBN: 0-395-96794-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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