While this narrative remains light on action, the author speaks with sophistication and style about the experiences of...



A woman born to an affluent New York family reflects on her upbringing and evolving perceptions of her parents.

Altman’s (In Theda Bara’s Tent, 2010, etc.) latest novel begins with an ominous proclamation: “While cleaning out my mother’s files after she died alone at her secluded house behind a locked gate near the Catskill Mountains, her five cats yowling from fear and hunger, I came upon an alarming letter.” From this document, Sonya Adler learns that many years ago, her mother, Violet, gave up a son for adoption. This discovery causes Sonya to recount her life story, beginning with the moment when she was told her parents would be divorcing. Her mother is the beautiful daughter of a wealthy industrialist; her father is an acclaimed movie producer 20 years her senior. After their separation, the shame of her mother’s unmarried status haunts Sonya’s childhood and shapes her view of relationships into adulthood. Altman’s writing is thoughtful and articulate. Though Sonya’s story includes many formative experiences, such as moving to a new neighborhood, mourning her relatives’ deaths, and falling in love with her eventual husband, the focus repeatedly returns to her mother. Violet is shown to be a complex, at times contradictory person. It is up to readers to decide whether she is petulant or passionate; an irresponsible mother or a woman trying to escape the expectations of a 1950s housewife. Sonya narrates her views on feminist issues and social mores quite earnestly. Many of her anecdotes are compelling and historically revealing, such as her fight to keep her maiden surname when casting a vote. She is admirably cognizant of her own flaws: She admits to being sheltered, changing for people who make her unhappy, and feeling jealous of her sister. But despite its many strengths, the plot is often lacking in conflict. Sonya describes her personal dramas quietly and solemnly, and few are sustained for very long. As a result, the flavor of the story is slightly bland.

While this narrative remains light on action, the author speaks with sophistication and style about the experiences of American women in the recent past.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63152-543-8

Page Count: 305

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2019

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These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.


Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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