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MEMORY WALL

STORIES

Doerr (Four Seasons in Rome, 2007, etc.) moves the reader gracefully from place to place (the stories span four continents),...

A collection of six stories—at least one long enough to be considered a novella—that illustrate Doerr’s sparse style, command of language and mastery of characterization.

The title story, the most elaborate in the collection, features the “harvesting” of the memories of 74-year-old Alma Konachek, who lives in a suburb of Cape Town. Three years earlier her husband, Harold, died immediately after discovering a rare fossil in the Great Karoo, a desert region in South Africa. Because the find is valuable as well as rare, a “memory tapper” breaks into Alma’s home, seeking the cartridges containing memories that have been harvested from wealthy people. While Luvo, the tapper, reviews the cartridges, the reader becomes aware of Alma’s past home and family life as well as the tensions in her marriage. Eventually, Luvo and his mentor Roger find the right cartridge and are able to retrieve the fossil, something of a miracle since the late Harold Konachek is convinced that the only permanent thing is change. The next story, “Procreate, Generate,” follows the heartbreaking story of Herb and Imogene, who after ten years of marriage decide they want children and are unable to conceive. The story almost reads like a documentary of their struggles with in vitro fertilization and the strain it places on their marriage. They finally conclude that “Nothingness is the rule. Life is the exception.” In “The Demilitarized Zone,” Doerr tells the story of an American soldier in Korea who buries a crane that hit a communications wire and almost gets court-martialed for his humanitarian act. In epistolary form, the story makes these implausible events both believable and moving.

Doerr (Four Seasons in Rome, 2007, etc.) moves the reader gracefully from place to place (the stories span four continents), from incident to incident, and from memorable character to memorable character by focusing on small acts that have larger resonances.

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4391-8280-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2010

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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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