NO

Stanford professor Djerassi (Menachem’s Seed, etc.), eminent chemist and —Father of the Pill,— here concludes his ’science-in-fiction— tetralogy with another speculation about the frontiers of sexuality, this time concerning the effects of nitric oxide (NO) on male impotence. Carefully distinguishing his work from generic science fiction, Djerassi claims that his science is accurate, while implying that the ’science— of science fiction isn—t. He seeks to portray the —tribal behavior— of scientists, typically displayed as they work out methods to test a new theory—in this case, the effect of NO on penile erection. Then there are also the potential hazards of any new treatment to consider: its carcinogenic potential, for instance, duly tested in experiments with laboratory rats. The sometimes pompous Djerassi well knows this world, and his arch sexual humor is fun. Less persuasive, though, is the scientist-as-storyteller. First, Djerassi scuttles the suspense of whether NO will work at all simply by announcing to the reader that it does—both in an introduction and in his first chapter. Second, his protagonist and principal NO researcher, 26-year-old Renu Krishnan, is more of an ideal than a character. Back home in India, her brother and widowed mother continually urge Renu to marry and take up a normal Indian woman’s life, but Renu, insisting that she chart her own course, falls for an Israeli scientist, Jephtah Cohn, who has invented a device for injecting NO (and even tries it himself). The two become lovers but entertain doubts about male and female roles, Judaism vs. Hinduism, etc. As though meant to illustrate a theory of people, yet failing ever really to seem like people, the characters remain constructs who lack humanizing rough edges. Entertaining enough, but all the hoopla over Viagra has somewhat undermined Djerassi’s premise—and his moxie. But for insight into the grants apparatus, the bureaucracy of science, and the way scientists think and work, Djerassi’s your man.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8203-2032-3

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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