Holden Caulfield lives again, in this beguiling seriocomic tale. Ten years ago Duffy's first novel, The World as I Found It, re-created the life and mind of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein with a radiant wit and intensity that made it one of the most highly praised debuts of the 1980s. Its successor, a comic bildungsroman set in suburbia and on the road in 1960, is not a bit less praiseworthy. The story concerns Frank Dougherty, a Maryland teenager and the only child in an energetic, self-analytical, just slightly crazy family that would fit somewhere between Salinger's Glasses and Cheever's Wapshots. When his mother unexpectedly takes ill and dies, Frank's increasingly confused relationship with his stunned father pushes him toward intimacy with neighboring families he both hopes and fears will take him in, and then complicity with two other lost and drifting kids, an orphaned black named Sheppy and Frank's antagonist and closest friend Alvy, a Boy Scout and altar boy who's given to hot-wiring cars and to spasms of inexplicable violence. The trio steal a car and head south, encountering such wonders as a pair of nubile and willing high- school girls (Tweety and Cookie), and a gentle and helpful black family who give Frank a lesson in race relations that Duffy spells out a little too baldly (``After that, colored people stopped being ghosts or negatives of white people. . . and I never saw them in remotely that same way''). But the novel hums along agreeably, powered by Frank's high-energy, ribald, plaintive voice (he's telling his story in retrospect, almost 25 years later, addressing it to his dead mother) and by several adroit variations Duffy plays on the controlling (title) metaphor, which describes the process of thinking oneself inside unfamiliar situations or other people's skins and making yourself understand them. That's sort of what a fine novel like this one does. Let's hope we don't have to wait another decade for Duffy's next one.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-80883-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1996

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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