THE GIRL OF THE LAKE by Bill Roorbach
Kirkus Star


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Elegant, assured short stories by Roorbach (Summers with Juliet, 2016, etc.), winner of an O. Henry Prize for a story gathered in an earlier collection.

The germs of whole novels, or at least novellas, can easily be found in several of Roorbach’s stories. One, “Harbinger Hall,” works from a beguiling premise: a young scamp forges a pass to get out of school, permanently, and falls under the aegis of the meaningfully named Mr. D’Arcy, who abets his anarchy while steering him toward a real education, “lessons on the maps; lessons on a polished-brass microscope; lessons in a dozen languages; lessons in business, ethics, economics; lessons in math and mythology; lessons in what the old man called charm.” Through those lessons, Bobby becomes Robert, a man of parts. Or so we imagine, since Bobby is still Bobby at the end of the story, still a kid in jeans and sneakers sometime in the 1960s. Roorbach’s characters are often intellectuals or at least smart people; one memorable one is a young woman who, the narrator of “Dung Beetle” tells us, was “formidable in her own way, too, don’t get me wrong; it’s just that for her there were other subjects besides Marxism.” Thus the sentimental education of a “callow boy” begins. Roorbach writes in unadorned, vigorous language, occasionally allowing a word such as “chondrichthyan” to slip in, though never without reason; “shark” wouldn’t have quite done it, given the elevated machinations that are taking place in “Broadax, Inc.,” which moves into the grown-up world, decidedly inferior to the imaginative world of childhood. But even childhood has its fraught moments; says one teenager of a difficult home life, “My phone-in therapist says [my sisters are] damaged from all the moves. Also, my mother has been in a major depression since Judith was born. Also, my father is basically a Nazi.” Poor dad doesn’t get a chance to defend himself, but given that “Kiva” takes place in Wernher von Braun territory, it just could be….

Readable entertainments that have much to say about the world.

Pub Date: June 27th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-61620-332-0
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2017


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