UNDER THE MOSQUITO NET

A charming anomaly: a woman's novel that's goofy, predictable, and unusually entertaining all at the same time. The story is a set-piece: Maia Rose, celebrated beauty- columnist for glamorous Chic magazine in New York, is 31 and has been a tragic widow for nine years (her young husband keeled over during a shopping trip to Macy's)—when suddenly she finds herself in the grip of an identity crisis. Does she really want to remain a fashionable beauty writer? Live in swank, expensive New York? Stay single forever? She doesn't know, so decides to take a vacation trip to think it over—to Australia, though at the last minute Chic's clairvoyant astrologer convinces her to go to Mexico instead. Missing a connecting flight to Acapulco, Maia lands in Yucatan. Encountering a Guatemalan refugee named Miguel Angel with a tragic past, Maia falls in love. Being stymied by Hurricane Gilbert when she tries to fly back to N.Y.C., she greets fate with a smile and settles down in Yucatan. She stays nine months (few in New York seem to miss her), sets up house with the Guatemalan, and then undergoes a wildly delayed, completely predictable reaction to the poverty around her and to revelations of Miguel's tragic past (he strangled his own baby to save a town!). She flees back to New York (her apartment is quietly waiting), where Miguel soon follows, and (after shopping at the Gap), the two reunite passionately and live happily ever after with their mutually tragic histories (he's immediately been accepted by her many friends). All of this is silly, but Dunkel (Every Woman Loves a Russian Poet, 1989—not reviewed) has a lighthearted, rollicking style and such an endearingly goofy character in Maia that the reader doesn't mind—almost doesn't mind—the slapdash predictability.

Pub Date: May 28, 1993

ISBN: 1-55611-365-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Donald Fine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1993

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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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Coelho's placebo has racked up impressive sales in Brazil and Europe. Americans should flock to it like gulls.

THE ALCHEMIST

Coelho is a Brazilian writer with four books to his credit. Following Diary of a Magus (1992—not reviewed) came this book, published in Brazil in 1988: it's an interdenominational, transcendental, inspirational fable—in other words, a bag of wind. 

 The story is about a youth empowered to follow his dream. Santiago is an Andalusian shepherd boy who learns through a dream of a treasure in the Egyptian pyramids. An old man, the king of Salem, the first of various spiritual guides, tells the boy that he has discovered his destiny: "to realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation." So Santiago sells his sheep, sails to Tangier, is tricked out of his money, regains it through hard work, crosses the desert with a caravan, stops at an oasis long enough to fall in love, escapes from warring tribesmen by performing a miracle, reaches the pyramids, and eventually gets both the gold and the girl. Along the way he meets an Englishman who describes the Soul of the World; the desert woman Fatima, who teaches him the Language of the World; and an alchemist who says, "Listen to your heart" A message clings like ivy to every encounter; everyone, but everyone, has to put in their two cents' worth, from the crystal merchant to the camel driver ("concentrate always on the present, you'll be a happy man"). The absence of characterization and overall blandness suggest authorship by a committee of self-improvement pundits—a far cry from Saint- Exupery's The Little Prince: that flagship of the genre was a genuine charmer because it clearly derived from a quirky, individual sensibility. 

 Coelho's placebo has racked up impressive sales in Brazil and Europe. Americans should flock to it like gulls.

Pub Date: July 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-06-250217-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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