The self-destructive family and the complicated love between siblings, core elements of McFarland's acclaimed 1990 debut The Music Room, reappear in a bold new configuration in this second novel about an elderly, emotionally unfulfilled brother and sister. News photographer and world traveler Francis Brimm has retired to his hometown of Pines, Florida; living nearby in the family home, her lifelong residence, is his older sister, 78-year-old Muriel. Their tranquillity is shattered when Francis discovers the remains of two murder victims, female college students; both Brimms receive threatening phone calls. But if the present is treacherous, so is the past. Her brother's return has revived Muriel's memories of an often grim childhood dominated by their father, an embittered doctor, a drunk, and a suicide. Muriel's defense has been religious belief, her brother's a skeptical detachment; neither has ever fully trusted others; ladies' man Francis has always shied away from commitments. McFarland's depiction of these old people navigating between visions, fantasy, and reality, fearful of appearing senile, glows with truthfulness. His handling of their fates is more problematic. A leisurely narrator, he suddenly, disconcertingly, becomes all business. Muriel, devastated by a childhood memory, succumbs to a fever, while Francis contracts a fatal blood disease; both are cocooned in fever-dreams. Their eleventh-hour savior is Deidre, young, unmarried, pregnant, and on the edge, Muriel's part-time help turned live-in housekeeper. Before Francis dies, all three savor the first-time experience of secure family love, of being thrillingly in touch, an apt sensation for the ``blind.'' It's a moving, dramatic conjunction, even if pushed a little too hard. Seldom has the combination in old people of spiritual authority, physical frailty, and sheer dottiness been caught with more acuity. McFarland's novel is full of airy meditations on mortality, but it is his robust characterizations that make it so heart-warming, such an impressive conquest of new territory. (Book- of-the-Month Club selection)

Pub Date: May 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-395-64497-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1994

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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