The Pace-Lap Blues and Other Tales from the Seventies

In his debut collection of 16 short stories, Dungey examines a simpler but not necessarily better time for the lower-middle class of America’s Midwest.
At the heart of this compendium is Hector Fritch, a hard-partying college dropout in Michigan. He starts out young and invincible but ends up impregnating his girlfriend, Gwen, and they marry. Hector has a job on the General Motors assembly line during the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, an era that was the beginning of the end for the United States’ dominance in automobile manufacturing. Michigan-based autoworkers such as Hector are soon suffering as more Americans turn to energy-efficient imported cars: “There was a brief panic about energy consumption. For a time, car buyers lost interest in the big Pontiacs Hector helped build.” During his increasingly lengthy layoff periods, Hector is a stay-at-home dad to his young son, Wes; he takes classes part-time, too, and spends too much time and money partying with his deadbeat friends. That annoys Gwen, the family’s principal breadwinner, who’s stuck in a dead-end waitressing job. As Gwen says to Hector after he spends the night in the drunk tank, “You’ve been letting off steam about once a week.” The collection tracks the inevitable dissolution of Hector and Gwen’s relationship, aggravated by economic stress, suburban boredom, his thoughtlessness and her restlessness. Dungey does an admirable job developing believable, flawed characters caught up in changing times. A retired auto worker himself, he successfully takes readers inside that industry in tumult, documenting the impact on those involved. In Hector, Dungey has created a symbol of American ennui who is content to get along without striving overly hard for the ideal of success. It’s unclear by book’s end what the future holds for Hector, although there’s a hint at his possible redemption.
A revealing portrait of a troubling time and situation that resonates today.

Pub Date: May 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1497541788

Page Count: 156

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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

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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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