A seriously playful novel about the interweave of literature and life.

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EXLEY

Another literary high-wire performance by a novelist who is establishing himself as a unique voice in contemporary fiction.

This novel shares significant qualities with its predecessor (An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England, 2007), which provided a critical breakthrough for Clarke. Both have protagonists who are good-hearted, well-intentioned and self-delusional, thus as unreliable as they are likable. And both have a metafictional, book-about-books quality. In this case, as the title suggests, the creative springboard is Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, a memoirist novel that itself confuses the real with the imagined. Here is what the reader knows for sure: Nine-year-old Miller lives in Watertown, N.Y., with his mother, a lawyer specializing in domestic-abuse cases among the military. His father, whom Miller loves and who left the family, is obsessed with Exley’s novel, so much so that its setting brought him to Watertown. Miller is so precociously intelligent that he has leapfrogged to the eighth grade. He narrates most of the novel. He also sees a therapist to help him deal with the absence of his father and his inability to distinguish the actual from the imaginary (a coping mechanism). The therapist develops some identity issues of his own. Miller’s father may have been a professor, an alcoholic, an adulterer, or all or none of them. Miller is convinced that his father enlisted to fight in the war in Iraq, and has returned from combat in critical condition to the local VA hospital. He also believes that if he can find Exley he will save his father’s life. Yet Exley in real life is dead, according to a biography by Jonathan Yardley (the book critic who also emerges as a character here). “Sometimes you have to tell the truth about what you’ve done so that people will believe you when you tell them the truth about other stuff you haven’t done,” says Miller, who is in for as many surprises as the reader.

A seriously playful novel about the interweave of literature and life.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-56512-608-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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