MISS DREAMSVILLE AND THE COLLIER COUNTY WOMEN'S SOCIETY

Hearth (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, 1994, etc.) goes hog wild with lighthearted humor as she tackles some heavyweight issues in her debut novel.

It’s 1962, and Bostonians Jackie Hart and family have moved to Naples, Fla., a community that’s more country than a bowl of grits. She’s itching to make new friends and become involved in community activities, but of course, that’s easier said than done. Small Southern towns don’t exactly welcome transplanted Northerners with open arms. But Jackie’s an obstinate redhead who starts a reading club that attracts a stereotypical mixture of lovable misfits. The salon, as Jackie calls them, meets each week at the town library to discuss books and everything else under the hot Florida sun, and they quickly form a tight bond. There’s the librarian, the only member of the group who doesn’t carpool with them to the meetings; the gay man who’s the town’s lone Sears employee; a woman who secretly pens magazine articles about romance and sex; a young black maid with aspirations of a better life; an octogenarian who’s also a convicted murderer; and the narrator, a postal clerk who’s known around town as the Turtle Lady because she rescues snapping turtles before they can become roadkill. But Jackie’s the central force and the one who provides impetus for the group’s adventures. In addition to her job as a part-time copy editor at the local paper, she’s the anonymous voice of Miss Dreamsville, a sultry radio personality who lulls listeners to sleep in the late hours of the night. Everyone in town is consumed with finding out Miss Dreamsville’s true identity, but before a climatic showdown at the annual Swamp Buggy Festival, Jackie and the group tackle some very heavy situations, including local reactions to the Cuban missile crisis that result in a mistaken arrest and a run-in with the KKK. In fact, the characters experience/discuss/confront almost every social, political, religious, gender-sensitive and environmental issue that’s relevant in the South during the early ’60s, and each topic is couched in so many Southern colloquialisms and treated with such superficiality that it’s hard to take any of it too seriously—which is just as well.

Fun to read.   

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-7523-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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