Berg fails to play to her strengths here.



A motivational speaker struggles to follow her own advice after a close friend dies.

Cecilia, successful self-help author and woman of a certain age—which she declines, on principle, to disclose—travels the nation inspiring others to be their best selves. However, since her best friend Penny died after a short illness, Cecilia herself is now adrift. Penny, her next-door neighbor in Minneapolis, had tried to persuade Cecilia to take a vacation and go globe-trotting with her. But Cecilia procrastinated, and now it is too late. Consulting a variety of fortunetelling devices, she sells her home—she has never married—and moves in with three other women, who are also at loose ends. The witty repartee among the four and their interactions with their pet, an aging yellow lab named Riley, are the most enjoyable aspects of this otherwise predictable pastiche of time-worn truisms on loss and aging. The four (and Riley) soon leave domestic routine to traverse the heartland in search of lost opportunities. Cecilia intends to reconnect with globe-trotting heartthrob Dennis, with whom she lost touch after college. Her traveling companions, advice columnist Renie, family physician Lise and chef Joni, are seeking, respectively, a lost daughter, an ex-husband and culinary inspiration. (Riley is just hoping for lots of road-food leftovers.) The bromidic plot leaves no doubt as to the outcome for all four. Berg marshals sentimental subplots in support of her inspirational thesis: The wry voice of the departed Penny reminds Cecilia that time’s winged chariot is hovering just overhead, the fiancee of a dying man in a hospice where Cecilia volunteers (that was Penny’s deathbed wish) offers him a last hope, and Cecilia’s dotty mother, an assisted living resident, is bent on getting married. However, the characterization, particularly of Cecilia, is too sketchy: A deeper, more fully articulated back story might have lent needed depth to our understanding of how Cecilia arrived at this juncture in her life.

Berg fails to play to her strengths here.

Pub Date: April 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9314-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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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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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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