Poverman's fifth book (My Father in Dreams, 1989, etc.) and second collection of stories (The Black Velvet Girl, an Iowa Award- winner in 1976) is a dazzler: Wide-ranging—from sexual abuse to psychosis, Vietnam nightmares, and the inner lives of drag queens- -Poverman consistently holds anguished lives up to the light and unsentimentally offers the possibility of redemption. The title story, close to novella length, takes a familiar subject that's been done almost to death—a young woman becomes involved with, and then frightened by, a self-described Vietnam vet who is violently self-destructive—and makes the familiar not only fresh but scary. The vet turns out not to be a vet at all, and the narrator's addiction to him (``he was like a drug and I couldn't get enough'') turns clichÇ on its face and manages to tell a dark Conradian story about a woman who comes to see a side of herself she would prefer not to know. Likewise, ``The Man Who Died'' begins as a psychological mystery about a professor accused of sexual abuse, then deepens as the professor begins to doubt his own version of events. A pre-sentence hearing turns into a personal psychoanalysis in which a man who's always thought of himself as a ``healer'' must confront impulses and dark visions. In ``Beautiful,'' Poverman turns what appears at first to be a glitzy story about a glamour girl into a haunting exploration of identity when the girl helps out a friend by demonstrating cosmetics and discovers how vulnerable women are, how willing to be changed. At its best, and that's often, a powerful group of stories: one of the finest collections since Christopher Tilghman's In a Father's Place.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 1992

ISBN: 0-86538-076-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Ontario Review

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1992

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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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