The premises are not believable and the exposition, tedious and overblown. A disappointment.


The Palm Springs Man of the Decade suddenly remembers that his gains are ill-gotten and his life built on lies.

"Late in the second decade of the twenty-first century," Harry Tabor is the king of his world, about to be honored for his philanthropy at a fabulous ceremony that's bringing his three adult children back to town to celebrate with him. Unfortunately, a nasty series of recovered memories begins to hit him during a tennis match the day before the ceremony. First, he remembers something he hadn't thought about since 1987—that he left behind a pair of dachshunds named King David and Queen Esther when his family moved from Connecticut to California. He abandoned his dogs? No one can mistake this for anything but the sign of a rotten soul and dark revelations to come. Next (still at the tennis court, by the way), he sees a white-robed cantor. "Who is he to Harry? Why is he seeing him? Or why is he being shown him? The face, it seems familiar, a face he has seen before. But where? He hears daguerreotype; registers that it, too, is reverberating only in his head, spoken in a voice dry and unfamiliar to him." The series-of-questions technique of development is used frequently in Wolas' (The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, 2017) second novel, another big book coming surprisingly close on the heels of her very successful, rather long debut. While that mysterious inner voice is guiding Harry through the process of recalling his sins, his children show up with troubles of their own, though nobody is honest with each other in this supposedly loving family. One has a stalled academic career and a secret job at a hospice; another has an imaginary boyfriend; the third has a non-Jewish wife who is leaving him because he tentatively expressed interest in exploring his faith. Strangely, all the buildup in the first four-fifths of the novel simply fizzles out in the last section. The ponderous writing is the last nail in the coffin. "Her mother was a prominent child psychologist and often said to her children, 'You can do anything you want if you have thought it through and are capable of articulating your reasoning. In other words, so long as you can show your work.' " Would anyone ever say that clunky line once, much less often? Sigh.

The premises are not believable and the exposition, tedious and overblown. A disappointment.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-08146-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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