THE FLOUNDER

A whale of energy and ambition and playfulness and dullness and miscellany. A Grimm's fairytale—"The Fisherman's Wife"—inflated to bursting, the exploded pieces mixed in with such considerations as Freud's "What do women want?" and a "history of human nutrition." A football team of book, swarming everywhere. The narrator, so goes the central premise, has lived in every age, with a female at his side to cook for him and thus—with what she provides for his belly—she influences the course of civilization in one small section of Pomerania. As a Stone Age fisherman fishing on the banks of the Vistula, the narrator-Man—stands on the shore and has a flounder jump from the water into his arms; the fish begins to speak. If the fisherman spares him, the flounder will counsel men through the ages on how to break the thralldom they live in (in the Stone Age men are suckled by three-breasted women and kept totally passive). The flounder is spared, advice is regularly dispensed; but the men make a muck of it, turning initiative into aggressiveness, war, and pain. Distraught, the flounder waits until the 1970s, now jumps into a boat full of women's-libbers, and throws himself upon their mercy. They bring him up before a special Women's Tribunal for his crimes. Rabelaisian, political, historical, fantastical, fable-like: Grass lets his book be all of these. The stamina is exhilarating but a little daunting; though Ralph Manheim has done a medallion job of translation, the bulk and density can drown you. To Grass' credit, however, he's thrown himself totally into this novel (as he hasn't done in a while). Ambitious readers can plunge into this Hood-like phantasmagoria of the battle-of-the-sexes; all readers can stand on the shore and admire some of Grass' inventive ripples.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 1978

ISBN: 0156319357

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1978

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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