History enthusiasts will enjoy Altman’s characters, fictional and real, though the general reader may struggle with the slow...

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IN THEDA BARA'S TENT

Fiction collides with historical realism in Altman’s (Hollywood East, 1992) novel about a young man whose boldness finds him on a quest for success in early 20th-century New York City.

A child of New York’s Lower East Side, Harry Sirkus is thrown out of his element when he’s suddenly orphaned and relocated to a small New England town. While still too young to understand his parents are gone, he is abandoned by his uncle, who places him in an orphanage, promising to return with great fortune. Harry finds himself on the receiving end of charity and sympathy, getting Thanksgiving dinner and pitying looks from his classmates. This humbling experience serves Harry well—he becomes determined to make something of himself and to do it on his own. When the orphanage closes, he dodges a would-be assignment to be a farmhand in Kansas and buys a one-way ticket to Boston. Through amazing resourcefulness and a lot of good luck, Harry works his way into the growing film industry, finally making his way back to a very different New York City than the one he left as a child. Harry’s fearlessness finds him befriending stars and working for Fox News, unwilling to be shut out of any opportunity. While Harry is an endearing character readers can root for, the story itself is somewhat more enigmatic. The plot becomes lost in finite and mundane detail, characters drift in and out of Harry’s life while only sometimes taking any effect, and the period’s rich and famous lend the novel most of its shine. The movement of the story is guided more by a play-by-play account of the historical context than the narrative’s own velocity, and Altman ultimately weaves in so many supporting characters’ storylines that none stands out in a compelling way.

History enthusiasts will enjoy Altman’s characters, fictional and real, though the general reader may struggle with the slow plot.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0615343273

Page Count: 339

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2010

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

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.

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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