EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS

The many admirers of Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars (1994) won’t be disappointed by this affecting, often superbly lyrical account of the final hunting trip undertaken by an elderly westerner dying of colon cancer. Echoes of Faulkner’s great story “The Bear” and even Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” resound throughout the painstakingly detailed description of the journey that 73-year-old Ben Givens plans to end with a suicide arranged to seem his accidental death. He’s a retired thoracic surgeon, recently bereft of his wife of 50 years, and a longtime resident of the Washington State wild country where he grew up on his father’s “apple farm.” Extended memory-flashbacks detail Ben’s closeness to his widowed father and elder brother (who would become a WWII casualty), and his idyllic love for sweetheart Rachel, who would serve as an army nurse in France while Ben saw combat duty in Italy, bringing away from the war years both his bride and a commitment to save lives instead of taking them. Guterson juxtaposes these memories against a sequence of experiences that challenge the moribund Ben’s resolve to die: he survives the wreck of his car and an attack by coyote-hunting wolfhounds; meets a couple who seem destined to live forever, a compassionate veterinarian, and, later, a tubercular migrant worker, then a girl enduring a dangerous childbirth—and learns that his life-giving skills remain unimpaired. The denouement feels both hurried and flat, and its ending uninspired—but it’s rescued time and again by the beauty and clarity of Guterson’s prose, a virtuosic blend of crisp declarative sentences and long, seductive, image-filled extended meditative statements. Thinly imagined but quite beautifully written—and (the nicely named) Ben Givens’s appealing integrity and compassion undoubtedly guarantee that his story will be another major popular and critical success. (First printing of 500,000; Literary Guild main selection; $500,000 ad/promo)

Pub Date: April 20, 1999

ISBN: 0-15-100229-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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