A debut collection of six stories, as well as a title novella: coming-of-age chronicles set in the Midwest in which young men deal with death or the limitations of their masculinity. The male initiationswar, camping, hunting, blue-collar workare tenderly rendered, memorable in characterization, and strongly tied to place. In the overlong novella, two sonsboth Vietnam protestors in the pastare trapped at Christmas with their parents; the boys use the opportunity to bounce their 60's arguments off their father (``the perfect straight man'') and to listen to his WW II stories. Incrementally, the story finds its way to male communionand could easily serve as a companion-piece to Robert Bly's Iron John. Of the other stories, the moving ``You Ain't Dead Yet'' is about a young man who one summer digs graves at the same time that he mourns his mother. He reaches his crisis (``He thought of...the carcass he had stepped on...and he knew he was going to die'') just in time for the Crusher, his mentor, to save him with a few heartfelt words in a story worthy of Andre Dubus. ``Don't Stick Your Elbow Out Too Far'' is an affectionate portrait of another young man, this one about to be married, who relies on his eccentric uncle Otto, once a car dealer, to help him find a suitable car. The ensuing comic epic is engaging. In ``Very Truly Ours,'' the narrator eventually makes peace with his hard-drinking grandfather, ``meaner than a barbed-wire fence.'' Only ``Happiness,'' about three guys on a canoe trip that turns dangerous, is too easy and sentimental: its resolution bemoans how the three all drift apart, ``succumb to duty and dull routine,'' instead of living forever inside a beer commercial. Not without its flaws, but still a promising launch.

Pub Date: June 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-670-83777-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1991

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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