Undisciplined work from a writer who becomes tangled up in his own obsessions.


An offbeat jeremiad inspired by America’s cultural decline.

For his seventh work of fiction, White (Requiem, 2001, etc.) borrows the name of his protagonist, Hans Castorp, from Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. Like the other Hans, this one is visiting his cousin at a health facility, but otherwise there’s little resemblance between Mann’s eloquent confrontations and White’s scattershot satirical jabs. Hans is 22 and from Downstate, Illinois. A recent graduate, he has his first job lined up but, at his aunt’s urging, is checking on his cousin Ricky, who’s been at the Elixir, a “recovery spa” in central Illinois, for a long time. Realism gives way to surrealism as Ricky screams obscenities at a placid taxi driver and insists on giving Hans a revolver. There’s nothing grand about the spa: It looks like a strip mall of disused commercial buildings, set in a dreary landscape of slag heaps and toxic lakes, with foul winds blowing through. Hans is housed in a former Mr. Donut, where the previous occupant had been a young woman who’d raped her intoxicated father. What follows is a patchwork of narrative and monologues by such Elixir notables as Mayor Jesse, who is convinced someone has borrowed his genitals, and Professor Feeling, an aging hippie who refers to himself alternately as a Toxic Adult Child and the future Revlon Lama. Hans makes one friend, Cecile, an older woman with an impressive cleavage, but, timid virgin that he is, rejects her when she hugs him. White directs broadsides at the fast-food industry and academic jargon, among other things, but primarily he debunks the nuclear family, awash in alcohol, centered on boozy fathers in thrall to television (an old target of White’s). In the process, he neglects Hans’s predicament (is he trapped, or simply assimilating?) and fails to pursue other narrative leads (that revolver, say, or the exotic LaCrema, who leaves phone messages but never materializes).

Undisciplined work from a writer who becomes tangled up in his own obsessions.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2004

ISBN: 1-56478-369-3

Page Count: 231

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2004

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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