Southern California is See's home ground, and the skewering of its denizens' lifestyles her specialty (Golden Days, 1986), but, here, she breaks away with a vengeance, moving confidently into the world of international finance, pushing out to Japan and points west, letting dead men talk, and staining her home ground blood- red. The male voices are the first surprise, two very different males, polar opposites: Robin, a young beach-bum for whom life is having fun, and Jerry Bridges, a wealthy, middle-aged financier. Jerry loves money and the Orient; he is every bit as robust, and convincing, as Tom Wolfe's Sherman McCoy. We'll see him in action, in Tokyo to launch an American-Japanese co-venture; later on, prospecting along the Pacific Rim for a site for his ``twenty-first century city-state.'' Back home, he is king in his plush Pacific Palisades sanctuary, with the perfect (second) wife, Wynn, adorable little Josh and Tina, and a gorgeous teenage stepdaughter in Whitney (his coolness toward her masks a fierce physical desire). For Wynn, too, their home is a sanctuary, for she has moved up (and how!) from the ``dead, dank, rented bottom of the San Fernando Valley''; and, besides, Jerry is a kind man, a good man, even if forgetful of family occasions. Unfortunately, there are no sanctuaries; life is brittle, even in Pacific Palisades, for Whitney is injured in an auto accident and the driver (sweet, clowning Robin) is killed. Whitney heals, plunges back into life, loses her virginity on a Maui beach, only to die some months later, along with little Josh and 13 others, in a fiery multi-vehicle horror. Wynn has a breakdown, and Jerry (one of life's innocents, who has never seen a person die) is no help at all. Observing all this mayhem from his perch in an afterlife ruled by Buddha and Kali, Robin sends out his own delicate vibrations. See is wrestling with an old dilemma: How do you admit life's random violence into your fictional world without wrecking it? She is also (through a secondary, parallel story involving an English clairvoyant) suggesting the connectedness of all human lives. The result is flawed but fascinating: a novel that just radiates energy and marks a major step forward for this author.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1991

ISBN: 0-395-59221-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1991

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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