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CARPENTARIA

A latter-day epic that speaks, lyrically, to the realities and aspirations of aboriginal life.

A dreamlike novel from Australian aboriginal author Wright of a dreamtime interrupted as Australian native peoples meet industrial civilization.

If you can call it civilization, that is. Perched on the infernally hot salt flats of northern Queensland, at some distance from a sluggish river full of mud and “serpents and fish in the monsoon season,” is a waterless port town named Desperance, the center of Wright’s stately epic. Around Desperance—waterless so long that no one can remember when it stood near water—snakes a ring of aboriginal encampments, each a little more desperate than the next. In one lives a suggestively named old man, Normal Phantom, wise but somewhat feckless, given to making pronouncements in the voice of “a presidential Captain Hook.” Inside another camp are the Eastend boys, ne’er-do-wells deluxe, who have their difficulties with the neighbors. After all, as the narrator quietly observes, this idea that people should live in harmony “was a policy designed by the invader’s governments,” and not really anything inherent in human nature. Among these “ ‘edge’ people, all of the blackfella mob living with quiet breathing in higgily-piggerly, rubbish-dump trash shacks,” rivalries unfold, difficulties ensue and untoward events multiply. Imagine Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional town Macondo set on dustier ground and with considerably more magic—and aboriginal mythology—worked into the magical realism, and you have some approximation of Wright’s fluent tale, in which not much happens but a large cast of memorable characters are allowed to show themselves: a Bible-thumper, a psychopath whose motto is “Hit first, talk later,” some quirky types and some just plain normal folk. Wright, a member of the Waanyi people, turns in stretches of mixed-language patois that is a pleasure but sometimes a challenge to follow (“Big cyclone coming, boy, everybody barrba, jayi, yurrngi-jbangka—you better come with us”) as the tale winds its way to the end.

A latter-day epic that speaks, lyrically, to the realities and aspirations of aboriginal life.

Pub Date: April 21, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9310-2

Page Count: 520

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2009

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ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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