In her first signed novel since the mythical Canopus in Argos series, Lessing returns to reality—and to her considerable gifts for social observation and vivid characterization. Using a spectrum of left-wing characters, she focuses on the kinds of personal instability that would be drawn to—and solaced by—a terrorist stance. Lewis Carroll's Alice began by falling down a rabbit hole; Lessing's contemporary Alice—36, overweight, mixed-up, terrified of sex—began by being involved (since the 1960's) in squatter's rights and increasingly radical politics. Though celibrate, Alice lives with and for gay Jasper, a self-centered, politically pure neurotic (psychotic?) who has decided, as the novel opens, to make contact with the provisional IRA. Though early chapters show Alice's curious mixture of calm competence (she manipulates bureaucrats at the gas and water boards into supplying service to their new "squat") and infantile rage (she travels to her father's house one night expressly to throw a rock through the window, striking one of the young children of his second marriage), Alice is a mother-figure, not only to Jasper but to every waif that drifts into her new squat. Yet from the beginning there are frissons of instability: in Alice herself and in the web of relationships that quickly form in the household which Alice, quite unconsciously, dominates. These tensions increase as Jasper and Bert, titular heads of the group, become absorbed in plans for a car-bombing. Lessing offers a penetrating analysis of a sub-group (middle- and working-class political extremists) more often caricatured than characterized. The main focus is on the pathology of ideological "purity"—on how a "good" person like Alice, who is instinctively kind whenever one of her blind spots is not in operation, can arrive at an almost bland acceptance of random violence. The implied political message—as idiosyncratic as the quirky feminism of the Canopus series—seems to be that we don't really choose our political preferences; rather, they choose—and then control—us. The self-deluding Alice is not an easy character to spend time with, but her story is an extraordinary tour de force—a psychological portrait that's realistic with a vengeance. Altogether, this is a book which is strong as a diagnostic study of political motivation—and stronger still as an uncannily authentic character-study.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 1985

ISBN: 0307389960

Page Count: 466

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1985

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.


In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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