Brookhouse isn't exactly treading on Peyton Place turf, but he sticks to the idea that, no matter how quiet and laid-back a...

FOG

THE JEFFREY STORIES

Stories, set in a fictional New Hampshire town, whose residents deal with universal issues of loneliness, indecision, lust and mortality–call it the "human condition"–from the author of A Selfish Woman (2001), which appeared in the September 1, 2001, issue of Kirkus Reviews.

Jeffrey, New Hampshire, is a summer getaway, pop. 1,100 during the off-season, all 1,100 of whom seem to wrestle with a host of dramas disproportionate to that of their meager number. The situations that arise therein can be as mundane as the ongoing attempt to finger the perp who keeps stealing and returning a sex manual from the bookshop ("Yes"), or as perplexing as figuring out just whose remains those are that recently turned up on somebody's property ("Bones"). The residents of Jeffrey all seem to have pasts that haunt them. Take fitness instructor Milly Ong: She yearns for a stranger she met briefly and then reunites with him under possibly criminal circumstances ("Milly"); or independently wealthy Arlene Givens, who's desperate to reveal herself to the now-grown daughter she gave up for adoption ("Car Talk"). This is not your sleepy little New England hamlet: Voyeurism, trespassing and sex abound–sex in particular, none of it especially passionate or erotic. Despite plots entailing murder, accidental death, theft and various prejudices, the author's straight-faced storytelling and thin character development offer little reason to care about any of Jeffrey's inhabitants, though some scenes have the power to catch the reader unaware, e.g., when a girl is brutally assaulted during a date she was already reluctant to go on (title story). Small-town conventions and narrative dryness recall Updike's Trust Me, sans the master's inimitable talent for blunt exposition. The narrative tone of these tales suggest a 1950s milieu, thus jarring the reader with what would be anachronistic references to the Internet and 9/11, for example.

Brookhouse isn't exactly treading on Peyton Place turf, but he sticks to the idea that, no matter how quiet and laid-back a place and its friendly folk may seem, you can be sure that melodrama and debauchery are at play behind closed doors. In the right hands, interesting film potential.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 1936

ISBN: 0-9665798-6-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2011

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

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

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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