Libby, the author of several religious titles (The Forgiveness Book, 2010, etc.), makes his fiction debut with a charming, evocative coming-of-age novel.

In 1947, 16-year-old Cooper Dawkins is a normal American kid with a big problem—his parents are divorcing. Through a teacher at his Long Island high school, Cooper gets a job at a summer hotel in Vermont and considers it a perfect chance to escape. Planning to pass himself off as older and full of the ambition to “become a man, although he wasn’t quite sure what that meant,” Cooper arrives in Vermont and quickly discovers he sticks out like a sore thumb among the college students staffing the hotel (his proudly purchased cigarettes even turn out to be the wrong brand). He flirts with the beautiful Ronnie and the treacherous Sheila and befriends the brassy but true-hearted Rosie, who is proudly Jewish. The casual anti-Semitism Rosie endures, along with the fashions, music and mores, effectively evoke the era, warts and all. Cooper is assigned to the kitchens, presided over by the temperamental German chef Rudy and his long-suffering wife, Gretchen. Between his secret drinking, temper tantrums and vile screeds against Rosie, Rudy makes a memorable villain, though he also shows Cooper great kindness in the kitchen. As the summer wears on, Cooper has to contend with thwarted romance, sexual humiliation, an over-the-top confrontation with Rudy and an urgent summons home from his mother before the season is over. These bitter touches are a wonderful contrast to the frequent doses of nostalgia and give the work a pleasing verisimilitude. The commentary of the hotel’s gossipy laundry ladies is a distracting narrative device, and some of the characterizations of the staff go no deeper than their college affiliations, but these are small missteps. Luckily for readers, Cooper’s remembered summer ends on a high note, drawing to a memorable, satisfying conclusion. Given the potential for sentimentality in this material, restraint turns out to be the most admirable thing about Libby's prose; his matter-of-fact sentences evoke details without bogging down in wistfulness. A truthful, touching coming-of-age novel that will have particular appeal for 1940s buffs and connoisseurs of New England summer-hotel culture.


Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-1461194231

Page Count: 275

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2011

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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