Even one of the novelist’s lesser efforts has the signature style, edge and heart to delight fans.

THE DROP

The bard of blue-collar Boston crime returns with a sleight-of-hand novel tinged with sin and redemption.

The latest from Lehane (Live by Night, 2012, etc.) is a novel with an unusual genesis, and it’s shorter and less intricate than usual. It began when he was asked to adapt one of his short stories (“Animal Rescue”) for a movie. Though his novels have seen success on the big screen, this was his screenwriting debut, and it preceded the writing of this book, which might be dismissed, in lesser hands, as a “novelization” of the film. It’s richer than a mere re-creation of a movie on the page because the author gets inside the heads and thoughts of his characters in a way that a movie generally can’t. And this particular perspective is crucial when it comes to protagonist Bob, a keep-to-himself bartender who works for Cousin Marv. Both men, like pretty much every man in their neighborhood, have some sort of shady past, but the two have apparently gone comparatively straight. Yet Cousin Marv’s bar remains used by the Chechen mobsters who own it as a money drop for transferring funds. Such is the backdrop for what appears to be the main plot, in which lonesome, loveless Bob finds a beaten puppy in a trash can and is persuaded by a woman who witnesses the incident (and who has her own questionable past) to take it home. Since “all he wanted was to not be alone,” the connection with both the dog and the woman proves so transforming that he “suspected they might have been brought together by something other than chance.” But there’s another connection, a crazy thug and rumored killer who claims that both the dog and the woman are his. As the novel progresses, every character has secrets and revelations—except maybe Rocco, the dog—as the plot pivots in some surprising directions.

Even one of the novelist’s lesser efforts has the signature style, edge and heart to delight fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-236544-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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