A collection of sordid short fiction about sex, initially seductive but ultimately disappointing. Lau (Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, not reviewed) tackles the difficult topic of the dark underworld of female sexuality. Her women reveal a surreal mixture of strengths and weaknesses: They dominate men with everything from pretty young faces to black stilettos to the handles of wooden spoons, while falling victim to mind-numbing drugs, vicious male strength, and their desperate need for money. Often women appear to be controlling men: In ``The Session,'' Mary forces the wimpy son of an invalid mother to bring her wine on his knees, lick the bottoms of her shoes, and thank her for thrashing a spiked collar across his buttocks; the narrator of the title story manipulates a drunk, lonely old man into paying her hundreds of dollars to keep him company. Other times, women are at the mercy of brutal men: In ``Roses,'' an 18-year-old accepts the drugs and beatings of her psychiatrist paramour, certain he's acting out of the purest love; while ``Pleasure'' shows a woman frustrated by a hopeless affair with a married man succumbing to the lashings of a stranger, taking comfort in his absolute power over her and the fact that she can't be held responsible for anything that happens. But Lau so shallowly sketches her characters that it's hard to tell if these women are to be respected for choosing to submit, or pitied for occupying a position in a patriarchal hierarchy that forces them to become prostitutes and sex slaves. The idea that we must accept whatever happens between consenting adults is difficult to buy when one of those adults is at a financial, emotional, psychological, and historical disadvantage, and Lau's facile approach makes it impossible to determine how we're meant to interpret the often revolting action. Drags on too long, despite the volume's slimness.

Pub Date: March 9, 1995

ISBN: 0-7868-6058-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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