A funny, romantic story about how “the road you think you’re not taking can become the road you’re actually on.”

CHUCKERMAN MAKES A MOVIE

A man writing a screenplay about an unforgettable childhood winter discovers more about his family—and himself—than he ever expected in this comic romance.

In 2002, New Yorker David Melman, a 35-year-old self-proclaimed “marketing and fragrance genius,” isn’t a big film buff, so he’s skeptical when his older sister Marcy suggests that he take a class called “Drama for the First-Time Film Writer,” taught by her friend Laurel Sorenson. But after some pressure, David gives in and enrolls. He initially plans to write about “a perfume maker named Mort Chuckerman who loses his sense of smell,” but Laurel (known to David’s brother-in-law as “The Mormon Rodeo,” for mysterious reasons) suggests that David write instead about the yellow 1970s Cadillac Coupe de Ville that he inherited from his grandfather Slip Melman. Soon, David’s scribbles yield a complicated, zany tale set in the winter of 1977, involving Slip’s banishment from the Men’s Card Room, a game room at his Florida apartment complex; Slip’s wife Estelle’s determination to finally learn to drive; and the antics of a colorful cast of Jewish retirees who make up the Melmans’ neighbors, friends, and enemies. Meanwhile, David dates the Mormon Rodeo, although things get complicated when it’s revealed that she may move to Los Angeles. It’s just supposed to be a fling, but although she’s not his first rodeo, she just might be his last. Dickman’s debut novel is witty and observant throughout, and she packs her prose with sensory detail, as when she describes the aforementioned Men’s Card Room’s “signature stench—humidity mixed with cigars mixed with...stale sweat.” That said, the characters can be stereotypical at times, with an immature hotshot with no time for love, an eccentric artist who shows him a new path, and a bickering but affectionate Jewish family. However, she makes them all feel unique with telling touches, such as Grandma Estelle’s Adidas driving sneakers or David’s “banana boat” creation: a banana stuffed with a Three Musketeers bar.

A funny, romantic story about how “the road you think you’re not taking can become the road you’re actually on.”

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63152-485-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

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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Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES

Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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