Ironically, this brief novel takes on too much: Cox knows his way around Polish fairy tales, soccer culture, Czeslaw...

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KRAKÓW MELT

A gay, parkour-loving pyromaniac takes a stand against Poland’s oppressive society.

Radek Tomaszewski, the narrator of the second novel by Cox (Shuck, 2008), is an artist with a peculiar specialty. He constructs scale models of major cities consumed by fires—Chicago circa the Great Fire of 1871, San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake—with the intent to burn them before gallery crowds. But with the help of Dorota, an art student, he learns to broaden his artistic and emotional horizons. Unified in their contempt for Polish homophobia, they perform stunts like using candles to spell out gay-positive slogans and participate in rallies supporting an apparently homosexual elephant at a zoo. Cox ups the absurdist quotient by making Radek an enthusiast for both Pink Floyd and parkour, a discipline that treats cities like obstacle courses. But aside from random character coloring, it’s not entirely clear how those enthusiasms serve the story; the novel’s brief chapters leap from one set piece to the next, hanging only to a thin thread of plot. That’s not a problem when particular passages are successful. One powerful, sensual chapter about a beach trip shows how difficult it is for gays to express themselves in public without fear. In another chapter, a gay doctor performs emergency surgery on an ailing Pope John Paul II (the novel is set shortly before his death in 2005), while pondering the Catholic Church’s homophobia—a scene that will gain added resonance in the book’s final pages. But such moments don’t compensate for the narrative’s lack of connective tissue, which might have made Radek and Dorota’s struggles feel less abstracted.

Ironically, this brief novel takes on too much: Cox knows his way around Polish fairy tales, soccer culture, Czeslaw Milosz’s poetry and life in Kraków, but his treatment of these is too glancing to have the intended emotional impact.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-55152-372-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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