PRESENT FEARS

An exceptional debut collection in which Taylor (I is Another, 1996, etc.) proves that a sharp eye and clear voice still carry more weight than loud, cheap thrills. In the hands of a master, understatement provokes interest rather than boredom, and Taylor has the tone pitched just right: The world her characters inhabit is ordinary, immediately recognizable, and transparent enough to allow a clear view of the dramas that are enacted in it. Set mostly in Britain during the years immediately before or after the Second World War, these are narratives in which true emotions are invariably submerged, and stubborn and embarrassing eruptions are affecting precisely because of the deep reserve that they disrupt. ``Annie's Story,'' for example, recounts the confusions and fear of a young girl who slowly realizes that her mother has abandoned her, while ``The Sin of the Father'' portrays the moral decay of a London society doctor whose sense of family duties ultimately destroys his family feeling. The spiteful father of ``Like Father Like Son'' finds to his dismay that his son actually benefits from his mistreatment, while the floozy wife of ``The Dancing Partners'' discovers to her horror that her deceived husband has deceits of his own. The extreme subtlety of Taylor's approach may be out of keeping with contemporary tastes and could well have degenerated into obscurity and inertia if not for the lucid and engaging precision of her style, which has an epigrammatic edge (``It is a fact of modern life that the amount of a man's salary is calculated in inverse proportion to the satisfaction his job affords him, and its social relevance'') that's reminiscent of Austen and almost as robust as Fielding. A rare treat that impresses on the first reading and—even more unusual—improves on the second.

Pub Date: June 27, 1997

ISBN: 1-900850-04-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Arcadia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1997

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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