Understated, seemingly offhanded, Barthelme’s writing conveys much about the oddities of contemporary life with warmth and...


With a divorced male in his 50s living on the Gulf Coast and sorting out various female attachments, this 15th book of fiction from Barthelme (Waveland, 2009, etc.) covers turf similar to that of his last two novels.

Wallace Webster occupies a condo in a development called Forgetful Bay in a town halfway between Galveston and Houston in the century’s second decade. He’s on affectionate terms with four women: his dead first wife’s daughter, his living ex-wife, a younger ex-colleague and an age-appropriate casual lover from a neighboring condo named Chantal White. Her rich history will punctuate the book with moments of violence after she's introduced in her kitchen bound by an intruder with picture-hanging wire and smeared with Yves Klein blue paint (Wallace, like the author, was once an artist and knows color). Another neighbor will get a bullet in the head that may be self-inflicted or a parting shot from his wife, miffed perhaps because a woman in a black slip and heels was dancing early one morning in their driveway. Such incidents provide the only significant action and a little mystery in Wallace’s otherwise quiet life of navigating among his women and memories, dabbling in questions of faith, love and death. He’s “interested in the surfaces” and makes “small pictures, collages, postcards, other almost miniature objects”—which is a fair description of Barthelme’s craft. The dialogue, while entertainingly clever, presents almost every speaker as tersely ironic and in danger of sounding like Seinfeld via Elmore Leonard. His prose sometimes blossoms, though, as in a description of grade-school nuns “who streamed out of the convent like so many ants the better to look me over and tsk and tsk and click their little black beads.” Barthelme doesn’t resolve everything for Wallace, and the ending will have book clubs arguing for hours.

Understated, seemingly offhanded, Barthelme’s writing conveys much about the oddities of contemporary life with warmth and welcome humor.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-23124-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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