An effective novel of family and society from a writer with a flair for the offbeat.

MIND THE GAP

In Tombs’ (Robber Baron, 2007, etc.) historical novel, a Canadian author/filmmaker navigates disquieting family secrets, romance, politics, freelance journalism, and phantoms.

Richard Grey is born into an unusual Montreal family that lives near the St. Lawrence River. His mentally ill mother, Augusta, is sent to an asylum for several years, and the feckless and evasive family patriarch, Reginald, is often absent on railroad-connected business. As a result, Richard’s benevolent but domineering American grandmother, Blanche Grieve, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, runs the household. Her fondness for cats causes the allergic Richard to spend several years wearing a gas mask in the house—cementing the youth’s outsider perspective (“I now saw the world through glass eyepieces, which tended to fog up”). Perhaps unsurprisingly, journalism and writing become the boy’s passions, and he has a rich fantasy life that, among other things, transforms Augusta into an imprisoned secret agent; there’s a subtle reference to Patrick McGoohan in the TV show The Prisoner. Richard also has an imaginary muse/lover named Luciola, a lab-created woman imbued with firefly DNA, which makes her sport wings and glow. After attending grim Dystopia High School, Richard works his way through college by freelancing, including for the BBC, and, by 1975, he’s reluctantly covering the Quebec separatist movement; one of its leaders, an unctuous press baron, is clearly inspired by Conrad Black, the subject of a previous nonfiction book by Tombs. The Canadian writer/filmmaker’s first novel is a seriocomic dysfunctional-family saga and magical-realist coming-of-age tale that will put some readers in mind of John Irving’s work—if Irving had a fondness for hockey. The well-drawn characterizations carry along a plotline that seems a bit too bumpy and meandering for its own good. Fortunately, the characters are sympathetic, vulnerable, and oddball enough to make the rocky journey worthwhile, and some of Tombs’ details—especially in his portrait of a shady book publisher—have an impressive realism. 

An effective novel of family and society from a writer with a flair for the offbeat.

Pub Date: March 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9993840-0-5

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Evidentia Originals

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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