A disappointing attempt from a talented writer.

THE BOOK OF DAHLIA

The author of the story collection How This Night Is Different (2006) considers mortality in her first novel.

A typical day for 29-year-old Dahlia Finger revolves around toaster pastries, weed and crappy movies on TV. It does not involve looking for a job or a purpose. It does not involve leaving the sweet little cottage in Venice that her father bought for her. Indeed, it does not involve leaving the sofa, so it’s easy to see how lethargy is a symptom she might not notice. A Grand Mal seizure, on the other hand, is pretty hard to miss, and this is how Dahlia discovers that she has brain cancer. Terminal illness does not make Dahlia noble or brave. It makes her angry, sad and terrified, and Dahlia approaches death with the same cynicism, irony and mass-market touchstones that have guided her through life. Albert offers a fresh take on dying young, one that is without sentiment or romance. She does not, however, produce a satisfying novel. While there is a certain mordant humor in the fact that Terms of Endearment is the last movie Dahlia watches before her diagnosis, the pop-cultural references are generally unilluminating clichés. “Bottom line, nobody survives a Glioblastoma. Kind of like nobody puts Baby in a corner, dig?” Well, no, not really. The general structure and style of the book present a more serious problem. Albert seems overwhelmed by the relative spaciousness of the novel form. Most of the narrative is given to long passages of exposition—lots of telling, little showing—as Dahlia reflects on her life. The ending is bracing and poignant, but, as she spends more time in Dahlia’s past than her present, Albert avoids the very topic she seems determined to confront.

A disappointing attempt from a talented writer.

Pub Date: March 11, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-7432-9129-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2008

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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