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By his own admission (in a brief introduction here), Greene had "completely forgotten" the existence of an unpublished story called The Tenth Man—sold in 1944 to MGM, which dug it out of the archives in 1983.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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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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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