Static. Gracefully written, but, after the first few chapters, nothing builds until the uplifting (and unearned) close.


Shapiro (the memoir Slow Motion, 1998; Picturing the Wreck, 1996, etc.) returns with a “poor me” novel about a woman whose perfect family has disintegrated before her eyes.

Rachel, the classic (and classically annoying) victim-heroine, is constantly resentful—her mother, her friends, her children, her husband have all disappointed her. Husband Ned has moved out of the house, toddler Josh may have developmental problems, and daughter Kate is in a boarding facility for troubled teenagers, where she’s just picked a fight with another girl. Despondent, Rachel looks back over her life with Ned. They fell in love in New York, where she was a grad student and he an aspiring artist. When she became unexpectedly pregnant, they married and moved back to Massachusetts, into a house his parents helped him buy; he took a job as a teacher and they doted on their daughter until the summer 13-year-old Kate returned from camp no longer their sunny, athletic, loving daughter, but a sullen tattooed and pierced adolescent (camps allow tattooing and piercing these days?). The incidents Rachel recalls—rudeness, shoplifting—could describe any teenager, but Rachel sensed that Kate’s problems were deeper, even though Kate seemed to rally after she learned Rachel was pregnant. But after unexpected complications kept Kate out of the birthing room, she began a downward emotional spiral that was exacerbated when she accidentally dropped seven-month-old Josh. Soon, she told her psychiatrist that Ned had sexually molested her. No one believed Kate, who’d also begun cutting herself, but Ned lost his job and took up selling real estate for his decent if insensitive parents. Rachel describes her own mother as evil and deranged, although her behavior seems no worse than that of most aging, neurotic mothers. Rachel and Ned visit Kate’s school, and after the girl acknowledges she did a terrible thing, the family joins in a group hug.

Static. Gracefully written, but, after the first few chapters, nothing builds until the uplifting (and unearned) close.

Pub Date: April 8, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-41547-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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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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