An engaging romp propelled by Susan’s infectious voice and determined resilience.

THE WET NURSE’S TALE

Illegitimate pregnancies lead to a career in lactation in Chapel Hill bookseller Eisdorfer’s inventive first novel.

Victorian ladies who couldn’t or wouldn’t breast-feed their infants hired someone like Susan Rose to do it for them. Susan, one of ten children, leaves her farm family in the English village of Leighton to work as a scullery maid at the local Great House. Soon, however, her Rubenesque figure and generosity with her favors lands her in trouble. After several meetings in the pantry with the master’s son, Freddie Bonney, she leaves the Manor; unbeknownst to her employer, she is about to give birth. Furious at the prospect of one more mouth to feed, her venal, drunken father Tom is mollified when his wife, herself a retired wet nurse, finds Susan lucrative employment as live-in milk source for a succession of families in nearby Aubrey. But she can’t take baby Joey with her, and he dies after being weaned too soon. While in Aubrey, Susan has a brief affair with a Jewish dentist. When work dries up, she goes back to the Manor and resumes trysting with Freddie. Assuming (erroneously) that Freddie is the father of Susan’s second out-of-wedlock baby, Tom blackmails the Bonneys, who farm out infant Davey to their London cousin, Mrs. Norval. Insinuating herself into the Norval household as a wet nurse, Susan soon discovers that Mrs. Norval is decidedly not the maternal type; in fact, she’s psychotic. Playing on her mistress’s delusions, Susan concocts a subterfuge, too delicious to reveal here, that enables her to rescue Davey from the Bonneys’ misguided charity. Periodic set pieces illustrating reasons for surrogate suckling reflect exhaustive research but interrupt the story’s flow. Susan is such an appealing narrator and heroine, however, that readers will cheer on her quest for a true home.

An engaging romp propelled by Susan’s infectious voice and determined resilience.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-399-15576-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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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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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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