THE TENTH MAN

By his own admission (in a brief introduction here), Greene had "completely forgotten" the existence of an unpublished story called The Tenth Man—sold in 1944 to MGM, which dug it out of the archives in 1983. And, if that seems like an unpromising omen, so does the fact that Greene fills out the first half of this slight volume with "two more ideas for films"—both of them thin, shorthand-style scenarios. It's a pleasant surprise, then, to find that The Tenth Man itself is a more-than-respectable novella—far from a major addition to the Greene oeuvre, but a curious, intense, ironic tale reminiscent of Georges Simenon's better exercises in darkly psychological suspense. The setting is Nazi-occupied France during WW II; the Germans have filled a prison with innocent Frenchmen—to use as hostages in case of anti-German activities by the French townfolk. So, after two German soldiers in the town are murdered, the "orders are that one man in every ten shall be shot in this camp." And when a single, middle-aged Paris lawyer named Chavel draws one of the fatal lots, he offers all his wealth—cash, country house—to anyone who'll take his place before the firing squad: a young fellow nicknamed "Janvier" agrees, making sure that his new fortune will be passed on to his mother and sister. Jump, then, to postwar France—where the shamed lawyer, now calling himself Chariot, can find no work, is near starvation. . . and pathetically arrives at his old country-house, now inhabited (gypsy-style) by Janvier's old mother and young sister Therese. But, though Therese is obsessed with hatred for the cowardly lawyer who enticed her brother to his death, she never suspects that "Chariot" is this very man: she lets him stay on as handyman; he slowly falls hopelessly in love with her, unable to share his dark, guilty secret. And when a thoroughgoing villain—a con-man/actor who falsely claims to be the real Chavel—later arrives at the house, anti-hero Chariot becomes something of a true hero, redeeming his previous cowardice. Less than fully satisfying, with characters who remain only sketches—but full of sharp Greene touches (including a button-down priest) amid the slightly murky Simenon-esque landscape.

Pub Date: March 29, 1985

ISBN: 0671019090

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1985

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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