There is no high drama here, but Marie and Gabe are compelling in their basic goodness, as is McDermott’s elegy to a...

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McDermott’s brief seventh novel (Child of My Heart, 2002, etc.) follows seven decades of a Brooklyn woman’s modest life to create one of the author’s most trenchant explorations into the heart and soul of the 20th-century Irish-American family.

Sitting on the stoop of her apartment building, 7-year-old Marie watches her 1920s Brooklyn neighborhood through the thick glasses she already wears—her ability to see or missee those around her is one of the novel’s overriding metaphors. She revels in the stories of her neighbors, from the tragedy of Billy Corrigan, blinded in the war, to the great romance of the Chebabs’ Syrian-Irish marriage. Affectionately nicknamed the “little pagan” in contrast to her studious, spiritual older brother Gabe, Marie feels secure and loved within her own family despite her occasional battles of will against her mother. Cozy in their narrow apartment, her parents are proud that Marie’s father has a white-collar job as a clerk, and they have great hopes for Gabe, who is soon off to seminary to study for the priesthood. Marie’s Edenic childhood shatters when her adored father dies. In fact, death is never far from the surface of these lives, particularly since Maries works as a young woman with the local undertaker, a job that affords many more glimpses into her neighbors and more storytelling. By then, Gabe has left the priesthood, claiming it didn’t suit him and that his widowed mother needs him at home. Is he a failure or a quiet saint? After her heart is broken by a local boy who dumps her for a richer girl, Marie marries one of Gabe’s former parishioners, has children and eventually moves away from the neighborhood. Gabe remains. Marie’s straightforward narration is interrupted with occasional jumps back and forward in time that create both a sense of foreboding and continuity as well as a meditation on the nature of sorrow.

There is no high drama here, but Marie and Gabe are compelling in their basic goodness, as is McDermott’s elegy to a vanished world.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-28109-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

This new Baldwin novel is told by a 19-year-old black girl named Tish in a New York City ghetto about how she fell in love with a young black man, Fonny. He got framed on a rape charge and she got pregnant before they could marry and move into their loft; but Tish and her family Finance a trip to Puerto Rico to track down the rape victim and rescue Fonny, a sculptor with slanted eyes and treasured independence. The book is anomalous for the 1970's with its Raisin in the Sun wholesomeness. It is sometimes saccharine, but it possesses a genuinely sweet and free spirit too. Along with the reflex sprinkles of hate-whitey, there are powerful showdowns between the two black families, and a Frieze of people who — unlike Fonny's father — gave up and "congregated on the garbage heaps of their lives." The style wobbles as Tish mixes street talk with lyricism and polemic and a bogus kind of Young Adult hesitancy. Baldwin slips past the conflict between fighting the garbage heap and settling into a long-gone private chianti-chisel-and-garret idyll, as do Fonny and Tish and the baby. But Baldwin makes the affirmation of the humanity of black people which is all too missing in various kinds of Superfly and sub-fly novels.

Pub Date: May 24, 1974

ISBN: 0307275930

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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