WHERE THE HEART IS

A debut novel whose rose-colored glasses yield a happy-go- lucky portrait of the down-home lives of uneducated poor folks in Sequoyah, Oklahoma. Letts's determinedly optimistic novel portrays a world where all races coexist harmoniously, and where the splintery realities of American rural life—poverty, teen pregnancy, single motherhood, homelessness, child sexual abuse—are palatably presented beneath a thick coat of Brothers Grimm varnish. It all begins when Novalee Nation, 17, pregnant, and heading west in an old Plymouth, is abandoned en route by good-for-nothing boyfriend Willy Jack Pickens in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Not disturbed by this momentary setback, Novalee quickly befriends the local color: Sister Husband, an AA- convert who hands out Xeroxed chapters of the Bible; Moses Whitecotton, descendant of slaves and an infant-portrait photographer; Benny Goodluck, a Native American nursery owner who gives Novalee a buckeye tree; and Forney Hull, the town librarian. Penniless, Novalee lives in Wal-Mart until the birth of her daughter (Americus) on the store's floor makes her a temporary celebrity. The story continues to track Novalee and her quest for roots, history, and home, depending primarily on the quirky tics of its characters for forward motion and throwing in the occasional tragedy to jump-start the plot (Americus' kidnapping, a tornado, a few untimely deaths). By the close, loose ends are neatly sewn up, unrequited loves requited, and the underlying theme—home is where the heart is—pounded home. A simple, lighthearted depiction of a rural America that's not: entertaining, good for a tear or two, but lacking in substance. (Film rights to 20th Century Fox)

Pub Date: July 20, 1995

ISBN: 0-446-51972-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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