A sweeping old-fashioned novel that ambitiously explores an unfamiliar theme—life in wartime California—with sometimes too much corroborative detail. This time out, Finney (Winterchill, 1989; Birds Landing, 1986) describes the effects of war on a small town near San Francisco that becomes home to a naval-training base for Pacific-bound recruits, and a shipyard that attracts families seeking work- -families like the Mitchams, who come all the way from Tennessee to join the rich mix of reluctant recruits, veteran sailors, and teachers from out of state. The story, told in the first person by a rotating succession of characters, covers the war years, with a final fast-forward to 1975 to provide a satisfying wrap-up. At the heart of the novel are Chuck Sweet, a Navy veteran, and Avery Fontana, a young boy, who, like characters in a William Golding novel, act as agents of grace evoking redeeming responses from the rest. Both are haunted by the past: Sweet's Hopi mother committed suicide, and more recently he himself not only survived the attack at Pearl Harbor but came through a further ordeal at sea. Avery, whose father is in prison for a murder that Avery witnessed, lives with an aged cousin. He befriends young Ruthie Mitcham, who will ultimately hold her family together as they survive the father's death, a brother's desertion, and their shipyard-worker mother's depression. Sweet, troubled by memories of his ordeals, fears going back to sea; he also fears falling in love with Avery's teacher, the pretty Elaine, who lives next door to the Mitchams. Lives intersect, and the war is a constant presence as rationing, air raid alarms, and troublemaking recruits dramatically affect life in the town. But happiness wins out—sort of. Finney has the period down pat—but, finally, the story falters amidst all its conflicting if admirable ambitions. Still, a readable tale of life at home during the Big One.

Pub Date: July 2, 1993

ISBN: 0-517-59107-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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


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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