Undisciplined if consistently entertaining account of a media sensation. But Sorrentino has burrowed deep into this violent...


A bold, multifaceted reconstruction of the aftermath of the 1974 kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Some army: just nine soldiers, and six of them will die in the fire that accompanies a shootout with the authorities in Los Angeles. Second-novelist Sorrentino (Sound on Sound, 1995) begins his story the day before that, as Tania (Patty’s guerrilla name) fires her carbine to protect her comrades, caught shoplifting. The three then commit five successive carjackings, while elsewhere their Field Marshal requisitions—from The People—the house where his group will die. This long opening section is fine edge-of-the-seat suspense. Then Sorrentino, tinkering with the historical record but keeping the fundamentals intact, tracks Tania and the other two survivors as they settle into different safe houses in the East, return to California, rob two banks in Sacramento and get nabbed in September 1975. They’re aided by a network of sympathizers, chief among them Guy Mock, a big-talking “radical sportswriter” who smells a megabucks book deal. The point of view constantly shifts. We hear from Tania’s parents; the FBI operations chief; Guy’s brother Ernest, who’s a lush and a snitch; a bank robbery victim; and the bewildered, conservative parents of other activists. There are odd digressions: Tania waitressing, undisguised, at a Borsht Belt resort; Guy peddling his book project in New York (clumsy satire). And there’s one more scene as suspenseful as that opening, when Guy is almost killed by the paranoid General Teko. The lasting impression is that the hard-core SLA members are, in the words of their sympathizers, “fucked-up sons of bitches” with no “clear channel to the truth.” Tania is pleasingly complex, bound to the group by the existential novelty of her situation and her newfound love of firearms.

Undisciplined if consistently entertaining account of a media sensation. But Sorrentino has burrowed deep into this violent counterculture without quite achieving the insights of, say, Joan Didion.

Pub Date: July 6, 2005

ISBN: 0-374-27864-4

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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