A well-turned but overly familiar sequence of domestic dramas.

A HAND REACHED DOWN TO GUIDE ME

STORIES AND A NOVELLA

For his first work of fiction in more than a decade, Gates explores—though maybe the better term is strip-mines—well-off souls hitting the skids thanks to divorce, illness, self-medication, or some combination thereof.

Gates knows his preferred theme, and the dozen stories here stick to it. The opening novella, Banishment, is narrated by a New York journalist who falls for a semifamous architect 30 years her elder. Speaking in a sassy, world-wise, but increasingly weary tone, she catalogs her creative decline (her dream of using her kept-woman status to write essays ends with her whiling away days smoking weed), her husband’s failing health, and an emotional decision that crashes the house of cards. In that story, Gates (The Wonders of the Invisible World, 1999, etc.) displays a knack for burrowing into the lives of affluent, culturally savvy types. But though Gates tinkers with perspective and setting in the remaining stories, their effect is less expansive and ultimately repetitive. “Alcorian A-1949” is narrated by a hard-drinking composer turned cynical about his “oh-so-personal vision.” “George Lassos Moon” follows a theater critic with a drug habit, thrust back into the life of a protective aunt after a drunk-driving arrest. An English professor in “Monsalvat” is maintaining a speed habit while minding her aging poet father. And so on, and so on. Sometimes these stories strain credulity to attain their effect of domestic collapse, never worse than the moment when a doctor’s druggy children take revenge on his new wife in “A Secret Station” by taking a chainsaw to the Thanksgiving turkey. Gates is a graceful and penetrating writer about people who are stuck in a rut. But the rhythms and emotional temperature of these stories have a stubborn sameness of their own.

A well-turned but overly familiar sequence of domestic dramas.

Pub Date: May 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-35153-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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Rather than settle for a coming-of-age or travails-of-immigrants story, Hosseini has folded them both into this searing...

THE KITE RUNNER

Here’s a real find: a striking debut from an Afghan now living in the US. His passionate story of betrayal and redemption is framed by Afghanistan’s tragic recent past.

Moving back and forth between Afghanistan and California, and spanning almost 40 years, the story begins in Afghanistan in the tranquil 1960s. Our protagonist Amir is a child in Kabul. The most important people in his life are Baba and Hassan. Father Baba is a wealthy Pashtun merchant, a larger-than-life figure, fretting over his bookish weakling of a son (the mother died giving birth); Hassan is his sweet-natured playmate, son of their servant Ali and a Hazara. Pashtuns have always dominated and ridiculed Hazaras, so Amir can’t help teasing Hassan, even though the Hazara staunchly defends him against neighborhood bullies like the “sociopath” Assef. The day, in 1975, when 12-year-old Amir wins the annual kite-fighting tournament is the best and worst of his young life. He bonds with Baba at last but deserts Hassan when the latter is raped by Assef. And it gets worse. With the still-loyal Hassan a constant reminder of his guilt, Amir makes life impossible for him and Ali, ultimately forcing them to leave town. Fast forward to the Russian occupation, flight to America, life in the Afghan exile community in the Bay Area. Amir becomes a writer and marries a beautiful Afghan; Baba dies of cancer. Then, in 2001, the past comes roaring back. Rahim, Baba’s old business partner who knows all about Amir’s transgressions, calls from Pakistan. Hassan has been executed by the Taliban; his son, Sohrab, must be rescued. Will Amir wipe the slate clean? So he returns to the hell of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and reclaims Sohrab from a Taliban leader (none other than Assef) after a terrifying showdown. Amir brings the traumatized child back to California and a bittersweet ending.

Rather than settle for a coming-of-age or travails-of-immigrants story, Hosseini has folded them both into this searing spectacle of hard-won personal salvation. All this, and a rich slice of Afghan culture too: irresistible.

Pub Date: June 2, 2003

ISBN: 1-57322-245-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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Morrison traces the shifting shapes of suffering and mythic accommodations, through the shell of psychosis to the core of a...

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BELOVED

Morrison's truly majestic fifth novel—strong and intricate in craft; devastating in impact.

Set in post-Civil War Ohio, this is the story of how former slaves, psychically crippled by years of outrage to their bodies and their humanity, attempt to "beat back the past," while the ghosts and wounds of that past ravage the present. The Ohio house where Sethe and her second daughter, 10-year-old Denver, live in 1873 is "spiteful. Full of a [dead] baby's venom." Sethe's mother-in-law, a good woman who preached freedom to slave minds, has died grieving. It was she who nursed Sethe, the runaway—near death with a newborn—and gave her a brief spell of contentment when Sethe was reunited with her two boys and first baby daughter. But the boys have by now run off, scared, and the murdered first daughter "has palsied the house" with rage. Then to the possessed house comes Paul D., one of the "Pauls" who, along with Sethe, had been a slave on the "Sweet Home" plantation under two owners—one "enlightened," one vicious. (But was there much difference between them?) Sethe will honor Paul D.'s humiliated manhood; Paul D. will banish Sethe's ghost, and hear her stories from the past. But the one story she does not tell him will later drive him away—as it drove away her boys, and as it drove away the neighbors. Before he leaves, Paul D. will be baffled and anxious about Sethe's devotion to the strange, scattered and beautiful lost girl, "Beloved." Then, isolated and alone together for years, the three women will cling to one another as mother, daughter, and sister—found at last and redeemed. Finally, the ex-slave community, rebuilding on ashes, will intervene, and Beloved's tortured vision of a mother's love—refracted through a short nightmare life—will end with her death.

Morrison traces the shifting shapes of suffering and mythic accommodations, through the shell of psychosis to the core of a victim's dark violence, with a lyrical insistence and a clear sense of the time when a beleaguered peoples' "only grace...was the grace they could imagine."

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1987

ISBN: 9781400033416

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1987

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