Singleton (stories: The Half-Mammals of Dixie, 2002, etc.) may have invented a new genre. Call it The Hoot.

NOVEL

A state-sponsored snake handler and defrocked speechwriter finds even more unusual outlets for his peculiar talents, in the South Carolina author’s meticulously deranged first novel.

Just down the road a piece from the literary territories of James Wilcox and T. R. Pearson is the town of Gruel, where the story begins with a literal bang. Novel Akers’s mother-in-law, Ina Cathcart, perishes along with her common-sense–challenged son Irby, whose lit cigarette encounters her oxygen tube as he’s driving Mom home from the hospital. Then, things get strange. Novel (so named by his ex-concert-pianist parents, because it seemed to fit with those of his older adopted Irish orphan siblings James and Joyce), having lost his job as an itinerant advocate for snakes’ rights (and ecological usefulness)—which is actually a cover for the subversive speeches Novel penned for a clueless lieutenant governor—decides to hunker down and write his autobiography (to be titled, of course, Novel). His wife (Re)Bekah, unhinged by either the above-mentioned fatal accident or her own possible complicity in her daddy’s putative suicide, skips town, leaving Novel to re-renovate the venerable Gruel Inn (which Bekah had turned briefly into the Sneeze ’n’ Tone weight-loss spa) as a writers’ retreat. Novel hangs with philosophical bartender Jeff the Owner, deflects the wandering attention of surplus storeowner (and, probably, Bekah’s hired contract killer) Victor Dees, and half-heartedly romances recently slimmed-down Maura Lee Snipes (whose emporium features her specialty “Jesus Crust”), before being hired as Gruel’s town historian. So it goes, interspersed with Novel’s memories of his siblings’ sociopathic merriment and his eccentric father’s nuggets of useless wisdom (“A great pianist should keep a rabbit with him at all times . . . to keep his hands warm”). There’s a novel somewhere inside Novel, but it’s buried under the gags, many of which are just about irresistible.

Singleton (stories: The Half-Mammals of Dixie, 2002, etc.) may have invented a new genre. Call it The Hoot.

Pub Date: June 6, 2005

ISBN: 0-15-101128-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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