A few compelling ideas in a book as misguided as its protagonist.

ABSENT A MIRACLE

Lehner (What to Wear to See the Pope, 2004) returns with a novel about pursuing sainthood.

Alice Fairweather is a devoted mother and (sometimes) devoted wife to her philandering husband Waldo. She is also a passionate career woman, until she loses her job as host of The Dream Radio Show. (The overused dream motif does nothing new here.) Alice is not particularly likable: Her attempts at humor are either scathing or annoyingly self-conscious; her actions and speech often seem contradictory. A bizarre set of circumstances lead her to befriend and then fall for Waldo’s college roommate, a dashing Nicaraguan named Lalo, who comes to New York City on a mission to canonize his great aunt. When Lalo has to leave the States, Alice weirdly takes up the torch in his stead, immersing herself in the Hagiographer’s Club and eventually boarding a plane to Nicaragua. Though the novel starts strongly with an original premise (laid out in an extremely well-written prologue), the narrative line soon weakens and eventually peters out all together; Part II entirely fails to develop plot or characters. Lehner often chooses showy words when simpler ones will do, and as a consequence the syntax distracts from the story. An excessive number of plot points, ranging from the health of the family dog to the history of saints, give the narrative an unfocused, scattered quality. Lalo’s quirky, sassy family and Alice’s precocious sons are promising characters, but they’re secondary, not crucial. Though the story revolves around whether or not Lalo’s great-great aunt will achieve sainthood and whether or not Alice and Waldo’s marriage will survive, readers won’t care by the time this undirected saga staggers to a close.

A few compelling ideas in a book as misguided as its protagonist.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-15-101429-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009

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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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