Heartfelt, rip-snorting storytelling.

TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD

A husband and wife explore separate but parallel frontiers in the wild Northwest of the late 1800s.

Ivey’s superb second novel (The Snow Child, 2012) is mainly composed of two braided journals. One is by Allen, an Army colonel who fought Apaches in Arizona in the 1860s but by 1885 has a gentler temperament and wants to explore the Wolverine River in southern Alaska. The other is by his wife, Sophie, who’d be eager to join him if it weren’t for know-your-place lectures from fellow Army wives. Allen and his small band endure a host of familiar travails—scarce food and ammunition, bad weather, skeptical natives. But his secret, unofficial diary also includes more surrealistic experiences, like a discovered newborn baby whose umbilical cord is connected to a tree root. Back at the Army barracks, Sophie discovers she’s pregnant but soon miscarries—most likely due to the opium tinctures prescribed by her condescending doctor—and discovers photography as a way to navigate through her grief. Ivey means to say that Allen and Sophie are equally pioneering to the extent that society of the time allowed them to be, but first and foremost this is an exceptionally well-turned adventure tale, rich with Allen’s confrontations with brutal snowstorms and murky underwater beasts and Sophie’s more interior efforts to learn her craft and elbow local busybodies out of her way. Brief, poetic entries and sketches by a member of Allen’s cohort give the story a series of lyrical grace notes, and Ivey anchors the tale in present-day correspondence between Allen’s great-nephew and the curator of a museum to whom he’s sent Allen’s journals. Those letters make an elegant and affecting argument that though the territory is tamer now, not everything that makes it spiritually inspiring has been thawed out and paved over.

Heartfelt, rip-snorting storytelling.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-24285-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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