It’s not that Coupland can’t conceptualize with more significance than is on display here; it’s just that he seems not to...


A quartet of monologues about the aftermath of a high-school mass shooting.

Set in suburban Canada between the late 1980s and now, each of Coupland’s four sections here is narrated by a person in some way affected by a 1988 Columbine-like massacre. Setting the shooting that far in the past, years before something of its magnitude became a part of the mediascape, is an odd misstep for Coupland (All Families Are Psychotic, 2001, etc.), who normally has his antenna zoomed-in with radar precision on the Zeitgeist. Cheryl, the subject of section one, had just been secretly married to her boyfriend on the day she was killed in the massacre, and her memories leading up to that day are interspersed with the horrific details of the shooting itself. Then we’re introduced to Jason, her husband, who heroically killed one of the shooters but ended up being vilified in the media and seeing his life turn to one of aimless dissolution. The book’s last half is made up of a desultory slog through the life of the woman Jason later abandons, then of a brief, beside-the-point coda from Jason’s ultrareligious father. There’s some excellent material here, especially in the parts detailing the Christian youth group that Cheryl belonged to (an entire novel could have been written on the neurotic, cultlike ostracizing and later the near-deification of Cheryl). As an engine for moving a story along, the massacre at first seems a perfect choice but later feels only like an arbitrary and borderline exploitative excuse to link these stories together.

It’s not that Coupland can’t conceptualize with more significance than is on display here; it’s just that he seems not to want to. Cleanly written but lacking steam.

Pub Date: July 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-58234-358-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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