TUMBLE HOME

A NOVELLA AND SHORT STORIES

Hempel's third volume of precious miniatures (At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, 1990, etc.) includes a novella that reads like an inflated version of its short, fragile companion pieces, one no more than a paragraph long. Which would be fine if that paragraph (``Housewife'') were a finely etched, poetically dense bit of prose, but it's just short and rather silly. The six other pieces, some a page or two long, are offered in support of Hempel's claim that the miraculous abides in the ordinary, which here seems to mean scenes of domesticity, full of babies, children's games, and dogs. ``Church Cancels Cow'' and ``The Annex'' both concern the narrator's house, set across the street from a cemetery, where, we learn, one can watch dogs roaming and where a headstone for a dead baby is visible from every room. Summer resorts are the settings for three vignettes: ``Weekend,'' an idyll spoiled only when the men leave for work on Monday; ``The Children's Party,'' which features a moose sighting; and ``The New Lodger,'' the narrator's return to the site of past loves. The longer ``Sportsman'' chronicles a rough patch in a marriage, which the husband deals with by heading east to stay with friends on Long Island. The title novella is an extended letter written by the narrator from a sanitarium, and reflects the bitter patter of mental patients, odd comments hinting of deeper meanings. She writes to a famous painter with whom she once had tea, and tells him about her fellow ``guests'' at the former girls' school, such as Chatty, the southern belle and telepathic healer. The narrator fills her time by walking dogs from a nearby shelter and brooding on her mother, a frustrated artist who committed suicide. These ramblings try to impress with their sensitivity to ``objects in the world,'' but come across as an accumulation of scattered bits. Tales much like the poetry Hempel quotes: imagistic with no emotional or aesthetic heft, nor even a particular sensitivity to language.

Pub Date: May 7, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-83375-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1997

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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