A choppy narrative that fails to dovetail either the family’s story with the historical context or the realistic and...



Baker’s third novel (after Once Two Heroes, 2003) is a family saga about three generations of freed African-Americans who work their own land in the English colony of South Carolina.

Jasper Merian has been given his freedom, but is forced to leave his wife and son in Virginia, still enslaved. Before he can hack out part of the Carolinian wilderness as his property, the 29-year-old Merian must do battle with a fearsome creature that haunts the area because it was denied burial. After dealing with the supernatural, the practical Merian acquires a mule and a woman, both necessary for survival. Wife number two bears him a son, Purchase, but is outraged by Merian’s plan to fetch his first wife, Ruth. Fortunately for domestic harmony, his plan fails; Ruth dies a slave, but years later their son Magnus will join Merian at Stonehouses. By now Merian is a prosperous farmer and Purchase a skillful smith who has forged a magical, fortune-telling sword. It will be his outstanding achievement. Soon after he will fall for Mary Josepha, wife of a revivalist preacher, and turn into a lovesick fool, chasing her up North. Later Purchase will ship their small boy Caleum down to Stonehouses. The absentee father creates a big hole in the saga, which offers few of the rewards of the genre as it degenerates into loosely assembled episodes. Slavery flares briefly as an issue when Magnus, Merian’s successor as owner of Stonehouses, is forced to be a temporary slaveowner. The Revolutionary War is handled just as briefly, when the now grown Caleum fights magnificently at Saratoga, where he loses a leg. Recuperating in New York City, he settles down with a waitress, though he has a wife back home. Then, hey presto, he abandons the waitress and returns home, where the ghostly fiend must again be vanquished.

A choppy narrative that fails to dovetail either the family’s story with the historical context or the realistic and supernatural elements.

Pub Date: July 10, 2006

ISBN: 0-8021-1829-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2006

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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

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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