HOMETOWN BREW

An initially compelling though finally unsatisfying fourth novel from the gifted author of Little Woman (1990) and Public Life (1993). Akins’s strangely inchoate story begins as a contrast between the lives of two slightly acquainted women in the town of Rensselaer, Wisconsin. Melissa Johnson, who with her brother Frank stands to inherit their wealthy father’s profitable brewery (and its popular product, “Gutenbier”), has returned home with an illegitimate baby. And Alice Reinhart, a brewery employee, is sexually harassed by two redneck co-workers and also bedeviled by the reappearance of nude photographs for which she posed as a teenager. Gradually the story broadens to portray Melissa’s amorous involvement with a much older man, her late father’s attorney Curtis Niemand; Frank Johnson’s sympathetic handling of Alice’s complaint against her tormentors, and his subsequent affair with her; and—ever in the background—the character of —Little— Martin, the novel’s self-effacing good guy, who was Alice’s high-school classmate (the first, in fact, to confront her with those notorious photos) and who now figures prominently in both the melodramatic climax and the (rather unconvincing) aftermath of reconciliations and affirmed relationships. Meantime, Akins does demonstrate several important strengths: She writes beautifully formed, intensely analytical sentences and paragraphs in a style not unworthy of comparison with Henry James’s. She describes the brewmaking process in thoroughly convincing detail (in a manner reminiscent of Peter Gadol’s descriptions of winemaking in his recent The Long Rain). And she skillfully explores the mixed feelings of men who are simultaneously attracted to Alice Reinhart and wary of intimacy with her. But the characterizations overall are vague, and the novel is hamstrung by what appear to be its own mixed motives: to examine the sources and nature of sexual harassment in the workplace and to offer a realistic contemporary romance about wounded people helping one another heal. It piques but doesn’t hold your attention. Akins has done and can do much better.

Pub Date: June 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-44795-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1998

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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