A delightful story filled with pleasant people in a lovely setting, though it could have been told in half as many pages.

Second Thoughts: Second Chances

A meandering family saga set in small-town New York, by former creative writing instructor Moses (Train from Thompsonville, 2006).

LA-born and -bred Paul Kipnis, an art history instructor, is lured to upstate New York’s Ely College by his father’s first cousin Viktor, whom Paul had met at his mother’s memorial service. Shortly thereafter, Paul’s dramatic sister, Rachel, summons him to their father’s LA home because their father, Mitchell, suffers what appears to be a heart ailment. Paul—accompanied by Viktor, an old friend of his father’s—visits Mitchell, and the three decide on an extended stay with Viktor and his adopted daughter, Corinna, in Thompsonville, New York. Mitchell moves in, and the arrangement works remarkably well. The only conflict occurs when Mitchell suspects—accurately—that Paul has developed an attraction to Corinna, who’s engaged to the scion of a wealthy New York City Jewish family for whom an immigrant goy from a small town is just not acceptable. Paul deals with his feelings by avoiding Corinna, whose engagement to Syd Steinberg drifts on interminably, despite their estrangement and infrequent visits. Syd abandons his graduate studies and, after his brother is killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, enters the world of New York finance, a move that spells the end of his relationship with Corinna. Unfortunately, the time line becomes muddled midway through the story, with the narrative jumping from one year to another (backward and forward) for no good reason. Likewise, a solid edit is needed to clear up some narrative inconsistencies. Nevertheless, with an adeptly drawn portrayal of Thompsonville, Moses offers likable characters in an enjoyable story despite the shortage of action and plot. 

A delightful story filled with pleasant people in a lovely setting, though it could have been told in half as many pages.

Pub Date: March 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5035-3471-1

Page Count: 398

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

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

FLY AWAY

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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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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