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A WINDOW ACROSS THE RIVER

A modest tale of quiet sincerity, good-natured and freshly narrated, but it needs more bite than Morton’s dull characters...

Morton (Starting Out in the Evening, 1998, etc.) describes the complicated emotional life of a writer who cannot resist putting her friends into her stories.

At 35, Manhattan author Nora is too young for a midlife crisis, but she’s going through a bad patch all the same. On the verge of breaking up with her boyfriend Benjamin, she feels that her life has somehow stalled. A professional writer for the last 15 years, she hasn’t published more than about five short stories—some of them very well received, but still—and has yet to attempt a novel. Lonely and depressed, Nora picks up the telephone one night and calls her old flame Isaac, a photographer she hasn’t spoken to since she broke up with him five years ago. He’s recently taken a job as a photo editor and moved to the suburbs, but he’s still single and very happy to hear from her again. They meet for lunch and somewhat tentatively renew their friendship. Each has a different reason for caution: Nora is desperately unsure of herself and afraid of life in general; Isaac is still in love with her and wonders why she’s called. As they cat-and-mouse their way around each other, life goes on as usual. Isaac keeps himself busy with his job and his young friend Renee, who may or may not be attracted to him. Nora works on her stories and tries to help her beloved Aunt Billie, who is dying of breast cancer. Along the way, however, Nora makes her perennial mistake: She puts Isaac in one of her stories—and shows it to him. This bad habit has cost her more than one friend in the past. Will it wreck things with Isaac? Or can one artist see his way to understanding the foibles of another?

A modest tale of quiet sincerity, good-natured and freshly narrated, but it needs more bite than Morton’s dull characters can provide.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-15-100757-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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