Cynical and funny: a yarn worthy of a place alongside Cortázar and Donoso.

GESELL DOME

“He was swollen, deformed, nibbled by fish.” And that’s one of the luckier residents of Argentine novelist Saccomanno’s infernal seaside-resort city, where not much good ever happens.

A Gesell dome is a one-way mirror that allows researchers to observe subjects without their being aware of it. So it is with this omnisciently noirish novel, which allows readers to hover over Villa Gesell in the off-season and see the odd doings of the year-round inhabitants. The resort (an actual place), the translator tells us in a helpful introduction, was named after another Gesell, the descendant of German immigrants, but no matter: all kinds of people end up in the beach town for the same sorts of exigencies and accidental reasons as the Europeans who have landed on the Rio de la Plata for the past half-millennium, among them an escapee from the military terror of the 1970s whose daughter, after affairs with drug dealers and sessions in rehab, pleads for her own daughter to find a place in the relative safety of Villa Gesell. “Trabuco kept a jealous eye on her,” the narrator tells us, making revelations in fits and starts, “told her that a sinner never gets rid of the vice in her soul and that the Lord must have had some reason for infecting her, because let’s not forget that Vicky has AIDS.” Vicky isn’t the only denizen of the city who’s sick, and everyone seems altogether grumpy, perhaps because, under the orderly surface, the whole place is tainted with graft, corruption, and nepotism, all of which run through the city like the sewer line that, the narrator assures us, will never be built, “streets and boulevards gutted with no signs of a single pipe.” Moving from character to character, Saccomanno writes with dark lyricism of the shady dealmakers, old-school Nazis, youngsters “with their hormones raging,” prostitutes, and other types whom you might expect to find in a grim place and a grim time.

Cynical and funny: a yarn worthy of a place alongside Cortázar and Donoso.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940953-38-0

Page Count: 616

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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Read this for insights about writing, about losing one’s mother, about dealing with a cranky sous-chef and a difficult...

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WRITERS & LOVERS

A Boston-area waitress manages debt, grief, medical troubles, and romantic complications as she finishes her novel.

“There are so many things I can’t think about in order to write in the morning,” Casey explains at the opening of King’s (Euphoria, 2014, etc.) latest. The top three are her mother’s recent death, her crushing student loans, and the married poet she recently had a steaming-hot affair with at a writer’s colony. But having seen all but one of her writer friends give up on the dream, 31-year-old Casey is determined to stick it out. After those morning hours at her desk in her teensy garage apartment, she rides her banana bike to work at a restaurant in Harvard Square—a setting the author evokes in delicious detail, recalling Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, though with a lighter touch. Casey has no sooner resolved to forget the infidel poet than a few more writers show up on her romantic radar. She rejects a guy at a party who reveals he’s only written 11 1/2 pages in three years—“That kind of thing is contagious”—to find herself torn between a widowed novelist with two young sons and a guy with an irresistible broken tooth from the novelist's workshop. Casey was one of the top two golfers in the country when she was 14, and the mystery of why she gave up the sport altogether is entangled with the mystery of her estrangement from her father, the latter theme familiar from King’s earlier work. In fact, with its young protagonist, its love triangle, and its focus on literary ambition, this charmingly written coming-of-age story would be an impressive debut novel. But after the originality and impact of Euphoria, it might feel a bit slight.

Read this for insights about writing, about losing one’s mother, about dealing with a cranky sous-chef and a difficult four-top.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4853-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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