An uneven debut offering an imagination a touch too fond of novelty, a bit too carried away with its own fictive swagger,...



Brock follows his debut novel (The Ordinary White Boy, p. 960) with a prizewinning first collection of 14 stories: a flat if engaging thrum along the themes of loss and despair, in working-class upstate New York, in which mostly male characters find themselves confused in midlife.

While not masterful in his execution, Brock is inventive in his devices: in “Starving,” “a group of fathers in Little Falls decided . . . to starve themselves to death.” Despairing over their sons’ failures in marriage and work, the dads wage a group hunger strike—and thus enact a parable of father/son relational dynamics writ large. In “Specify the Learners,” an adult male finds himself in 6th grade again. Having failed the grade as a boy, and believing that failure to be the source of all his future shame, he seeks to mend the youthful gap—but finds his teacher, as well as a young girl, sexually attracted to him. Such extreme situations are a staple of Brock’s fiction here: a man’s hand is severed (in “Compensation”), and its recovery raises deep questions about loyalty and duty to a friend In “Plowing the Secondaries,” another man falls in love, plans a future with, and finally has his heart broken by a corpse of a woman tossed into a snowbank. And in “She Loved to Cook But Not Like This,” a man introduces himself as the arsonist behind the burning of the Emily Dickenson house in Amherst.. The most conventional story here, “The World, Dirty Like a Heart,” details the breakdown of a high-school teacher’s marriage after a colleague falls in love with a 17-year-old student. The author’s rare attempt to narrate in a woman’s voice, “A Cabin on a Lake,” is unconvincing, and lacks the gritty, mauled prose of the other pieces here.

An uneven debut offering an imagination a touch too fond of novelty, a bit too carried away with its own fictive swagger, and a bit too droll in its emotional reticence to capture a reader’s enduring interest.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-889330-67-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

Did you like this book?

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner


Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet