DOWN BY THE RIVER

Expatriate Irish writer O'Brien (House of Splendid Isolation, 1994, etc.) offers one of the most ferocious indictments of Gaelic life and culture since The Playboy of the Western World. The case several years ago of an Irish girl who was barred by judicial decree from leaving the country to procure an abortion was bound to work its way into fiction, and O'Brien was probably the likeliest to pick it up. She adds a particularly nasty twist to the already-repugnant scenario by making 14-year-old Mary MacNamara not merely the victim of rape but of incest as well, impregnated by her father not long after Mrs. MacNamara's funeral. Ashamed and unwilling to reveal the true circumstances of her case, Mary becomes the pawn in a monstrous political game played out across the pulpits, newsrooms, and Foreign Offices of the British Isles. A kindly neighbor who takes her secretly to London is threatened with arrest and reluctantly brings the girl home, where she is kept virtually imprisoned to prevent her from terminating either her pregnancy or her life. She manages to escape into the hands of the liberals, but they have an agenda of their own, seeing in her the perfect candidate for a Supreme Court case—a case that cannot possibly be settled in time for an abortion. As the wheels of justice grind slowly, Mary becomes increasingly depressed and exhausted. The panorama of characters who wander into and around the controversy—including judges, journalists, schoolgirls, transvestites, and madwomen—give a rich background to the story, but the book's angry impact is diminished through its having been inspired by a case that was dramatic in its own right and through a presentation that is relentlessly partisan. If hard cases make bad law, it must be added that they can make pretty poor literature as well. O'Brien's propagandistic tone and two-dimensional characterizations will bring her few if any new admirers.

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-374-14327-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

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THE SANDMAN

BOOK OF DREAMS

Top-flight fantasy collection based on Gaiman's character The Sandman, developed in a series of graphic novels for DC Comics, as reimagined by a strong group of fantasists. Long-lived comics readers will remember fondly the original "Sandman" from the 1930s and '40s, with his fedora, googly-eyed gas mask and gas gun; Frank McConnell discusses this precursor in his preface while hauling in Joyce, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Jung, and Wallace Stevens to dress up Gaiman's stow-parentage. Inventing his own lore for the character, Gaiman (1990's hilariously naughty Good Omens, with Terry Pratchett) wrote 75 installments of The Sandman before closing shop. Awash with watercolors and supersaturated with acid, The Sandman stories are stories about storytelling, celebrations of the outr‚ imagination. The central character of Gaiman's work evolved into a figure variously known as Dream, or Morpheus, or the Shaper, or the Lord of Dreams and Prince of Stories, and his surreal family is called the Endless, composed of seven siblings named Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium. Drawing on Gaiman's inkwell are Clive Barker (frontispiece but no story), Gene Wolfe and Nancy A. Collins, and a number of lesser lights, all in top form. George Alec Effinger invents a long tale inspired by Winsor McCay's classic comic strip "Little Nemo" ("Seven Nights in Slumberland"), while Colin Greenland ("Masquerade and High Water"), Mark Kreighbaum ("The Gate of Gold"), Susanna Clarke ("Stopt-Clock Yard"), and Karen Haber (in the outstanding "A Bone Dry Place," about a suicide crisis center) mainline directly from the ranks of the Endless. Rosettes to all, but especially to John M. Ford's "Chain Home, Low," which ties an onslaught of sleeping sickness to the fate of WW II fighter pilots, and to Will Shetterly's "Splatter," about a fan-convention of serial killers who lead their favorite novelist (famous for his depictions of psychopathic murderers) into the real world of serial-killing. Fancy unleashed on rags of moonlight.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-06-100833-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1996

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Works beautifully for so long as Susie simply tells the truth, then falters when the author goes for bigger truths about...

THE LOVELY BONES

An extraordinary, almost-successful debut that treats sensational material with literary grace, narrated from heaven by the victim of a serial killer and pedophile.

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” These opening lines in Susie’s thoroughly engaging voice show the same unblinking and straightforward charm that characterized Sebold’s acclaimed memoir, Lucky (2002)—the true story of the author’s surviving a brutal rape when she was a college freshman. Now, the fictional Susie recounts her own rape and—less lucky than the author—murder in a Pennsylvania suburb at the hands of a neighbor. Susie’s voice is in exquisite control when describing the intensity and complexity of her family’s grief, her longing for Ray Singh—the first and only boy to kiss her—and the effect her death has on Ruth, the lonely outsider whose body her soul happened to brush while rising up to a personal, whimsical, yet utterly convincing heaven. Rapt delight in the story begins to fade, though, as the narrative moves farther away in time from Susie’s death and grows occasionally forced or superficial as Susie watches what happens over the next decade to everyone she knew on earth, including her killer. By the time Susie’s soul enters Ruth’s body long enough to make love to Ray, the author’s ability to convince the reader has flagged. The closing third forces its way toward affirmative closure, and even the language changes tone: “The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future.”

Works beautifully for so long as Susie simply tells the truth, then falters when the author goes for bigger truths about Love and Life. Still, mostly mesmerizing and deserving of the attention it’s sure to receive.

Pub Date: July 3, 2002

ISBN: 0-316-66634-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

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