Hammond (stories: Breathe Something Nice, 1997, not reviewed) definitely goes for the baroque here. Overwrought and crammed...



Incest, suicide, and a dead baby—who could ask for anything more in a first novel?

Theodora Mapes writes copy for the kind of children’s catalogues that feature perfect velvet dresses and wooden toys. She’s not amused by the irony when she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant: any child of hers will have more than its share of psychological baggage. Her own mother, Marian, committed suicide when Theo was eight. Her cold, remote father denies it still, though he does admit his dead wife had a drinking problem. Theo can relate to that: she’s separated from husband Jackson, a phlegmatic midwesterner with an unquenchable thirst for beer. Living in southern California after leaving their Colorado home, Theo seeks the truth about the deaths of her mother and her baby sister Charlotte. The family is less than forthcoming: Dad says only that babies died more often in those days; older brother Corb is closemouthed to the extreme; even Evan, their garrulous former housekeeper, has nothing to add. Theo consoles herself with former boyfriend Gregg, churns out precious, adjective-laden copy, and continues her search for any concrete information about her mother’s demise. She happens upon a cache of medical and psychological evaluations and learns that Marian had attempted suicide several times, undergoing electroshock treatment and a stint in a mental hospital before succeeding. Then Theo finds her mother’s letters and discovers that not only had her grandfather raped Marian and younger sister Lyla, he’d done the same to four-year-old Theo. But wait There’s worse to come, as Marian’s correspondence continues with confessions of her own lurid misdeeds. Nothing daunted, Theo gives birth in due time to a daughter and showers her with healthy mother love and . . . milk.

Hammond (stories: Breathe Something Nice, 1997, not reviewed) definitely goes for the baroque here. Overwrought and crammed with often revolting detail.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-57962-034-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2001

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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.



This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.



Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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