Tedious, prolix tales: Unsympathetic characters may have become a staple of the self-consciously iconoclastic story. But...



Brightened sometimes by compassion or deft psychological insight, this collection mainly induces headaches brought on by convoluted, show-off prose and plotless ambivalence. Hurlyburly playwright Rabe would do better to stick to penning plays.

Recalling slightly the noir lyricism of Hemingway’s “The Killers,” the story “Some Loose Change” finds boozy losers Red and Macky seeking revenge on a real-estate bigwig who’s reneged on a debt. There’s mood aplenty in this lean tale: cut-rate strip clubs, busted Fords, Vietnam vet paranoia and the kind of dialogue that’s generally categorized as “taut.” And there’s real poignancy in “Holy Men,” wherein a young writer and lapsed Catholic returns home to visit his priest and mentor. In college, he’d tried out mildly experimental work; the good father encouraged it, provoking the ire of his order’s superiors. After suffering a nervous breakdown, he’d been banished from teaching and exiled to ecclesiastical Siberia, ministering to aging nuns. And the writer blamed himself for the priest’s collapse. While he can’t resist the reference to the Inquisition that’s obligatory in angry ex-Catholic fiction, Rabe carefully renders the provisional reconciliation of teacher and student, a moment of genuine grace. But even the best of his stories seem written as though someone had misread a thesaurus. “Guilt brought on a threatening regression whose only counteraction was to escalate the severity and terms of my quarantine” isn’t atypical of his tortuous style. The title story meanders through upper-middle-class malaise to a wishy-washy conclusion; “Early Madonna” goes on and on about a girl’s fixation on the pop star; “Veranda” deals with a neglectful dad and attempts to be heartbreaking, but manages mainly to annoy.

Tedious, prolix tales: Unsympathetic characters may have become a staple of the self-consciously iconoclastic story. But they sure are hard to take.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1807-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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