A coming-of-age novel that fails to delve beneath the surface.

THINGS THAT HAPPENED BEFORE THE EARTHQUAKE

An Italian teenager discovers sex, drugs, and decadence in Los Angeles.

In May 1992, while shooting a commercial in Rome, director Ettore gleefully tells his family they will be moving to Hollywood, “where it’s always summer,” so he can pursue his dream of making a horror movie. His daughter, Eugenia, is horrified, especially after she watches news footage of the Los Angeles riots; the reality, she soon discovers, is as dispiriting as she feared. In a city still reeking of fumes, the family settles into run-down Van Nuys, furnishing their house with yard-sale purchases; Eugenia is thrust into a huge high school where students are warned not to wear gang colors, and no one, including teachers, has ever met an Italian. Barzini (Sister Stop Breathing, 2012) skewers Hollywood pretensions and Southern California teen culture—vacuous, self-absorbed, insular—and conveys, in graphic detail, Eugenia’s strategy for dealing with her unhappiness: meaningless sex. Cloaked in a metaphorical “rubber suit” to ward off emotional involvement, she fills her life “with the presence of sex, as much as I could, as hard as I could,” easily seducing classmates and adding to her conquests a depressed goth screenwriter hired by her father. Barzini invents a cast of disturbingly odd characters: embittered, misanthropic Henry, who supplies Eugenia with drugs and is missing an ear; a volatile, alcoholic former rock star; a hippie drug dealer who offers scream therapy; Eugenia’s grandmother, who tongue-kisses her; two bored Valley girls who wind up abetting a murder; and many others. Eugenia idealizes Italy until a summer trip reveals a culture beset by misogyny, superstition, and violent cruelty. Back in California, she becomes enchanted by the canyons’ natural beauty, where she feels “something primal”; has sex with a mysterious girl who may be having an incestuous affair with her father; and takes more drugs. Finally, in a rushed climax, an earthquake shatters her father’s illusions about filmmaking and draws the dysfunctional family closer together.

A coming-of-age novel that fails to delve beneath the surface.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-54227-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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