A timely yarn that, though a little obvious and a little clunky, makes for a provocative entertainment.

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RADIO FREE VERMONT

A FABLE OF RESISTANCE

What if they gave a secession, and everybody came? Eco-activist McKibben (The Age of Missing Information, 1992, etc.) tries his hand at fiction, to mixed results.

There was a long-ago time, McKibben reminds his readers, when Vermont broke off from New York to form its own republic, which lasted for 14 years before it joined the U.S. So why not once again? It’s not as if the Berners would get the bomb. Instead, the independent Vermont dreamed of by old back-to-the-land-hippie protagonist Vern Barclay is a paradise of “Vermont milk, Vermont beer, Vermont music,” a place of a “free local economy, where neighbors make things for neighbors—and so they actually bother to give them some taste, body, and character.” It’s not just rhetoric; in a caper that opens McKibben’s yarn, secessionists hijack a Coors truck, explaining to the befuddled driver that since Vermont has “more breweries per capita than any place on earth,” there’s no real need for industrial beer from outside. That puts the secessionists on the wrong side of the law in a scene that could have come from Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, of which McKibben’s book might just as well have been a lost sequel, suitably updated so that the insurrectionists drive Subaru Foresters, work around Asperger’s syndrome, and ponder the reality of the system (“maybe Garth Brooks was real, in his own mind”). As with Abbey’s book, McKibben’s players are symbols as much as characters, acting out an idea. It’s a fable, in other words, and it gets a little didactic at times. McKibben admits as much, writing in an author’s note that the message isn’t necessarily that the nation should splinter so much as that “when confronted by small men doing big and stupid things”—and we all know who he means—“we need to resist with all the creativity and wit we can muster.”

A timely yarn that, though a little obvious and a little clunky, makes for a provocative entertainment.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1986-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous White policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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