An ambitious first novel by literary scholar Herron that sets out to create, in established epic form, a mythic exploration of traditional institutions and racial identity in America. Divided into 24 books, the story alternates between passages of incantatory prose and the more realistic account of the Snowdon family, whose tragic legacy is meant to parallel that of other great mythic families. The Washington, D.C., Snowdon family is affluent and black; father John Christian is a noted heart surgeon; wife Camille, beautiful but passive, tends her roses; and the three daughters—Cynthia Jane, Patricia, and Eva—lead privileged lives of expensive schools and travel. But a family chosen for an epic role must suffer some monstrous flaw or tragedy, and the Snowdons, sensitive and gifted as they all are, certainly do. Father John Christian and daughter Patricia love each other too much, and their daughter, Johnnie, is born. Sister Eva, also incestuous in her own innocent way, is raped and goes temporarily mad; and deeply religious Cynthia Jane flees her family to become a nun. Meanwhile, Johnnie, mute for the first 14 years of her life, lives secretly with her mother in Georgetown. But when Patricia, overwhelmed by her bleak visions, drowns herself in the Potomac, Johnnie sets off on a mini-odyssey to find out the truth about granddad/daddy, the two aunts, and grandmother Camille, who watched it all happen. And because this is more than a story about a troubled family, an apocalypse is hinted at, the past is revisited, and Johnnie is ``condemned to immortality'' as a light haunting a destroyed Washington. Vividly written and bold in concept, but the thematic intentions here are too strained and the story not quite up to it. Herron has tried to do too much.

Pub Date: April 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-394-57644-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1991

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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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