THE SUMMER BEFORE THE DARK

With what tenacity, as well as shattering effectiveness, has Doris Lessing functioned as the cartologist of women in our time scanning their various intellectual, biological and emotional binds ali the way beyond reality. This is certainly her most accessible (viz. successful) book since The Golden Notebook — not quite as overwhelming but whatever may have been lost in urgency has other compensations. On the surface, for example, it takes place within a much more fashionable and attractive ambit than she has used before. This of course narrows the distance and heightens the rapport even if, when all is said — or rather thought, and done (or undone by default) — Miss Lessing is only dealing in the cold comforts of home and universal truths. The summer before the dark is the one in which Kate Brown, wife of Michael, mother of four now quite self-sufficient children, finds herself alone — not only with time but many options on her hands. Still attractive, in her early forties, she's offered a summer job as a translator. She really can do what she likes since Michael for years has been having desultory affairs. However "We are what we learn" and what Kate has learned in the years of her marriage is to be amenable and available — "the warm center of the family, the source of invisible emanations like a queen termite." Now for the first time she realizes how useless she is on the terms she has so admirably fulfilled. She goes to the continent, then on to Spain with a young man — not young enough or anything enough. She becomes ill and returns to England, first to a hotel, and then to the apartment of a young woman who keeps changing her mind about what she'll be along with the way she looks from day to day — shying away from the "home paddock" — from what Kate is. And finally Kate completes her dream — her long serial dream about the seal (that other ecological casualty) trying to decide although what is there really left for her to decide? All of Doris Lessing's novels are defoliating acts of protest. But this time she's chosen a problem common enough to be commonplace without submitting to any of its overfamiliarity and managing her material with greater technical sharpness than ever before. Her novel is, as it should be, an experience which is apposite and applicable and all too true. Who can remain exempt?

Pub Date: May 1, 1973

ISBN: 0307390624

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1973

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

ALL ADULTS HERE

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.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

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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