Henderson displays a powerful moral imagination; all that’s missing is discipline.

TEN THOUSAND SAINTS

Screwed-up parents beget screwed-up kids. So it’s no surprise that an ill-omened teen pregnancy is the centerpiece of this bold debut, a heady witches’ brew.

Teddy and Jude, best friends in their mid-teens, have big problems. Jude was adopted at birth, possibly suffering from fetal-alcohol effects. His adoptive parents, Les and Harriet, are feckless potheads, Les growing pot, Harriet making drug paraphernalia. When Jude turns nine, Harriet evicts Les for cheating on her; Jude hasn’t seen him since. As for Teddy, his Indian father is supposedly dead; his white mother, a sloppy drunk, has just split. The boys skateboard through their Vermont town, getting high and shoplifting at will. On this last day of 1987, they have a date with Eliza, a total stranger but the daughter of Les’ girlfriend. At 15, she’s already a cokehead and sexually promiscuous. They gatecrash a party. Eliza gives Teddy cocaine before they have sex in a bathroom and she returns to New York. Back out in the cold, Jude’s idea that they inhale Freon is a step too far; he almost dies and Teddy does die, but he will haunt the novel, for he has made Eliza pregnant. All this could be depressing, but it’s not, thanks to the barbed language and fast pacing. And Henderson’s just getting started. Les shows up to remove Jude to Alphabet City, the ravaged Manhattan neighborhood where he lives. A near neighbor is Teddy’s 18-year-old half brother Johnny, whose role becomes increasingly prominent. Johnny is a tattoo artist and musician, as well as a straight-edge hardcore punk (no booze, no drugs). Although a closeted gay, he chivalrously offers to marry Eliza and claim paternity to thwart Eliza’s mother, who’s pushing for adoption. This is where Henderson loses the thread, wobbling uncertainly between Jude, Johnny and Eliza while doing double duty as a counterculture guide to the straight-edge scene. Context overwhelms characters, the unwieldy cast now including Johnny’s AIDS-stricken lover and Teddy’s Indian father.

Henderson displays a powerful moral imagination; all that’s missing is discipline.

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-202102-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2011

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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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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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