Dillen’s second novel (Hero, 1994) is an eccentrically narrated, riches-to-rags story of the spiritual redemption of a fast-talker, wheeler-dealer, and, yes, fool. Fools are losers when they don’t know they’re fools, and Barnaby Griswold is no loser. Griswold is actually proud of his cowardly, rash, idiotic behavior through his nearly 50 years of life: he’s made money in the securities trade, stayed out of jail, and held together a shabby respectability at his New England athletic club. But he’s also separated from his wife and children, and runs his heart on the fumes of this or that deal. After becoming involved in the Oklahoma oil boom, Griswold accurately predicts its crash and sells before losing everything. His co-investors are none too pleased with Griswold’s new-found fortune, and they connive to strip him of his assets to kick him out of the trade, as well as force him to issue an open apology to all damaged parties. Humbled, Griswold takes up the care of Ada, his wife’s ailing mother, with whom he is at last able to forge meaningful intimacy. One of the few women who knows him for the fool that he is, Ada also genuinely—indeed, sexually—loves Griswold. He meets Marie in a diner, and finds contentment in dating her. When he’s called back to the country club to preserve his family claim to their sacred membership, Griswold guesses the stock market will crash overnight, calls a few select friends, and finds Marie again, the daughter of a club elder. The market crashes, Griswold is restored to social health, and ready to court Marie. His commitment to Ada, however, compels, his return to Oklahoma—just the foolish sort of thing he likes to do. A well-written tale of comic sensibility, sturdily but plainly plotted, with enough skew in it to make things unpredictable, if not quite compelling, for the reader. (First serial to Harper’s)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 1999

ISBN: 1-56512-234-8

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1999

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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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