Another that may be in the Oprah mode, a tale of family torment. But Oprah’s picks as a rule have literary merit, and this...

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THE BUFFALO SOLDIER

It sounds like a TV movie of the week, but Bohjalian’s eighth novel, among them the Oprah-picked Midwives (1997), works hard and pretty successfully to transcend the hackneyed scenario of parents adopting a child after losing their own.

After a sudden flood kills the daughters of Laura and Terry Sheldon, a highway patrolman and his wife, they struggle for two years to cope with the loss. Finally Laura, unable to have more children, persuades her husband to take in a foster child. And so Albert arrives, a ten-year-old African-American boy—this in an all-white rural Vermont town. Neither a child from hell nor a particularly lovable one, Albert has endured the routine cruelties of the foster care system, and he enters the family with little hope of change. Although he’s the only African-American in town, however, he suffers surprisingly little overt racism. But plenty of insensitivity. “I am completely color-blind,” announces his teacher proudly. “I treat all my students as if they were white.” His classmates tolerate him, but their schoolboy cliques remain closed. Yearning for friendship, he finds it in an elderly neighbor, a retired teacher who allows him to care for his horse and teaches him about the buffalo soldiers, black cavalry who served in the American west after the Civil War. The story would be half its length but for stepfather Terry’s one-night stand with a young woman who becomes pregnant. Although she’s not willing to break up his marriage, Terry finds himself yearning for a child of his own, and their affair resumes. Devastated when she learns of it, Laura demands that he move out. He does, but the crisis is resolved and the marriage endures.

Another that may be in the Oprah mode, a tale of family torment. But Oprah’s picks as a rule have literary merit, and this is no exception. Despite a conventional plot, Bohjalian’s characters ring true, and he writes with insight and feeling.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60833-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed. This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel". It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define. Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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