THE BOOK OF FAMOUS IOWANS

Young novelist Bauer (The Very Air, 1993; Dexterity, 1989) offers, for our third helping, a rural coming-of-age tale that could hardly taste more overcooked had it been left on the stove all night. Its Writers' Workshop notwithstanding, Iowa is not the usual destination of choice for the young and the ambitious. So when LeAnne Vaughn's husband Lewis brings her back to his family's farm in New Holland, she has to take her time adjusting. LeAnne was a small-town singer who grew up in Wyoming with big things on her mind—until she met Lewis in the bar in Cheyenne where she sang. At the time, he had been in the Army, and the world seemed filled with possibilities to both of them. After Lewis's father is killed in a tractor accident, he decides to take over the family farm—a fatal error, as it turns out. Leanne's son Will narrates the story, many years after the incidents in question, mingling recollections of his own sad life with incidents from his mother's. He explains how the free-spirited Leanne discovers too late that the prairie village of New Holland is inhabited mainly by staunch churchgoing farmers who rarely sing and never dance or smoke at all. The only roguish figure in town is Bobby Markum, pitcher for the local baseball club, and LeAnne takes to him like a drowning swimmer to a life preserver. Bobby and LeAnne manage to be discreet for a while, but eventually everyone knows. The inevitable catastrophes ensue. Bauer succeeds in portraying the inner lives of his characters with extraordinary clarity and precision, but he somehow fails to extract much genuine drama out of such evidently dramatic scenarios. His overwrought prose doesn't help. And the narrative device of concentrating largely on events that took place during one brief period of Will's youth gives a more maudlin than mature air to the proceedings. Precious and overdone.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8050-4300-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

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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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