Begins with promise, but characters are reduced to clichés by overly simplistic conflicts.

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THE VOLUNTEER

A federal antipoverty worker finds his job on the line with the arrival of a new boss.

Michael Napolitano works as at the Survival Center, a service agency that provides food and goods to local low-income families in rural Massachusetts. Despite earning wages so low that he jokingly refers to himself as a volunteer, Napolitano enjoys his job and finds the work rewarding. With the arrival of new executive director Mr. Prince, however, Napolitano soon discovers an ugly side of the nonprofit world. In addition to being completely ambivalent to the center’s philanthropic goals, Prince reeks of cheap cologne and eagerly throws around racial slurs. When Prince refuses to give bread to an elderly woman who arrives after the official closing time, the situation sparks a heated confrontation between Prince and Napolitano that ultimately leads to the director firing Napolitano. Shocked by his rapid dismissal, Napolitano struggles to maintain normalcy by starting a new job, discussing politics with his friends and pursuing an unlikely romance with a beautiful woman. Finally he seeks the advice of Sarah, the beloved former director at the center, and discovers a nefarious secret about Prince’s past. While the book accurately depicts the disparities that can arise between nonprofit workers and the bureaucrats financing them, it reduces these characters to two-dimensional caricatures. As a sarcastic Italian-American with a stutter and a soft spot for doughnuts, Napolitano makes for a likable hero, but his inability to communicate reasonably with bosses and board members he dislikes is unrealistic and would result in any employee being fired. Similarly, the book contains cartoonishly evil villains who seem bent on closing or relocating the center for no apparent reason. By the time Napolitano enlists the help of a cowboy from the West Coast to rough up the director and restore order to the center, readers will have already drifted from the increasingly ridiculous plot.

Begins with promise, but characters are reduced to clichés by overly simplistic conflicts.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2010

ISBN: 978-1452812427

Page Count: 162

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2011

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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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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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