A book intent on rendering isolation which suffers from an excess of experimental overlay.


Three strangers in a rural Canadian town intersect in complex ways through the nexus of a mysterious piece of art.

Kent is a disaffected teenager growing up in the small Canadian town of Durham. His father is gone, his mother is emotionally absent, his brother died a few years ago under circumstances Kent will not talk about. When Kent is asked by a teacher to submit his documentary project to a contest—the prize for which could mean his ticket out of Durham—he's torn between his desire to create something like his favorite cult movie, Evie of the Deepthorn, and his desire to protect himself with slacker anonymity. Sarah—from whose perspective the second section is narrated—is a painfully awkward teen afflicted with virulent acne and an unpredictable temper. She only feels like herself when she's working on her magnum opus, Evie of the Deepthorn, a fantasy novel she's been writing since childhood. After her father’s death, Sarah burns the manuscript only to return to Durham 10 years later to the same secluded clearing where she buried the ashes. There she meets a young man she dimly recognizes from high school, who turns out to be Kent Adler, author of a book of poems she admires. In the midst of her own existential crisis, she forms an immediate bond with Adler that is as powerful as it is brief and sets her life on a new course. Some years later, Reza—the narrator of the third section—comes to Durham to visit the grave of acclaimed poet Kent Adler, who committed suicide in the neighborhood woods in 1976. In the aftermath of a bad breakup Reza is seeking the sort of elegiac clarity he finds in his favorite Adler poem, “Evie of the Deepthorn.” With the help of Sarah, now a clerk at a local real estate agent’s office, Reza finds Adler’s grave but discovers nothing of the spiritual balm he had expected there. Babyn’s debut novel has moments of deeply affecting writing and captures the emotional void of depression and the fear that trembles alongside desire with a deft touch. However, the convolutions of the story—which shuffles the details of the characters’ lives from section to section with deliberate contradictory intent—distract from the human truth at the heart of the novel. The unfortunate result is a book more akin to a failed parlor trick than a lingering expression of grief or faith in renewal.

A book intent on rendering isolation which suffers from an excess of experimental overlay.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4597-4557-5

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Dundurn

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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