Meat-and-potato realists should steer clear, but those who appreciate artifice and abstraction in fiction—including language...

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DIARY OF DJINN

A self-consciously artful concoction by memoirist Alhadeff (The Sun at Midday, 1997) skims the surface of a glamorous woman’s life as shaped by her djinn, the spirit that’s taken residence in her body.

Although the djinn adds italicized commentary from time to time, particularly at the beginning and end, to remind readers of its importance, most of the story is narrated by the unnamed young woman. Of Jewish descent and raised in Japan and Italy (not unlike the author), the woman attends an elite European convent, then works in Milan for a designer she calls “the master.” There are elaborate dinners—the narrator lists the menu for every meal—and beautiful clothes (described in detail). The narrator also analyzes how she became “entangled with homosexuals,” who are ultimately unavailable yet willing to be pleased more easily than heteros. She has an affair with a bisexual actor, but when marriage seems a possibility, the djinn steps in to keep the narrator’s spirit free. Said narrator ends up in New York (how is not explained), working frantically as a writer to pay for her expensive apartment and being involved with Hare, a married man whose wife spends much of her time in Mexico. Hare does something with art that requires travel and dinner parties full of highbrow chat. His 89-year-old mother, “the Princess,” whom the narrator met in Europe independently of Hare, comes to New York and stays with him. She wears blue dresses with low-slung belts and reads Kant. The narrator takes care of the Princess even when Hare is away. The radiation treatments the Princess undergoes for cancer are the most alive moments here, and the relationship between the two women the most developed and heartfelt. But the Princess returns to Italy to die.

Meat-and-potato realists should steer clear, but those who appreciate artifice and abstraction in fiction—including language describing the narrator having her “limbs waxed”—may be intermittently charmed.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-40234-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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