Tall tales need larger-than-life characters; Alistair and Finn are on the small side.


Ginder (This Is How It Starts, 2009), in his second novel, enlists three generations of an American family to illustrate the way myth and fantasy penetrate everyday lives. 

The patriarch, Alistair McPhee, a structural engineer working on bridges, used to live in a Hudson Valley town with his wife, Lucy, and only child, Colin. In 1956, when Colin was 8, the family would watch movies every week at the newly opened Avalon Cinema, but within a year, Lucy died of breast cancer; Colin’s father started disappearing on long road trips; and Colin practically lived at the cinema. At 16 he started work at the concession stand with a girl called Clare; he also tracked his father to a neighborhood bar and listened to him entertain a skeptical audience as he recalled fantastical exploits on the road. Eventually, Colin moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter; he sold one screenplay, which was a hit but after that, terminal writer’s block. By chance he met Clare again; they married, had a son, Finn, and then Clare split. The awkwardly constructed novel begins in 2010. Finn is a young man in New York City, editing reality TV shows. His grandfather, Alistair, has had a stroke and is being looked after by Colin in San Francisco. (Finn and Colin alternate as narrators.) Finn gets a call from his granddad: Drive my battered old car across the country and retrieve my memories. The mission is urgent, though much diluted by the flashbacks. Finn motors west with his camcorder and a new buddy. As he admits at the end, he’s an unreliable narrator, so he’s layering a new set of fictions on top of the old. This might be intriguing, or at least good fun, if there was some passion behind the inventions; but only once, in Chicago, ringing the changes on a baseball story, is there a sign of that. 

Tall tales need larger-than-life characters; Alistair and Finn are on the small side.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4391-8735-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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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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