Readers familiar with Laxness’s earlier works shouldn’t overlook this fascinating appendage to them. Those unfamiliar might...

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UNDER THE GLACIER

Christian doctrine gets a riotous, increasingly cryptic comeuppance in the Icelandic Nobel laureate’s whimsical 1968 novel, previously unavailable in the US.

It’s narrated by “unordained priestling” Embi, sent by the Bishop of Iceland to investigate unseemly activities rumored to be ongoing at the remote parish of Snaefellsjoküll Glacier, tended by unconventional minister Jon Primus—who shoes horses and repairs machinery while letting his church fall into ruin and failing to give the dead Christian burial, among other abominations. Embi’s report documents his meetings with the unflappable pastor, and with the local and itinerant eccentrics who comprise his isolated little world. These include: pastoral housekeeper Miss Hnallpora, who plies the emissary with cakes while recalling her vision of a golden-fleeced “fairy ram”; querulous builder and sometime poet Jodinus Alfberg; a trio of “Winter-Pasture Shepherds” who quote Buddhist wisdom while pursuing suspiciously unspiritual agendas; and the self-styled patron saint of the community “at Glacier,” Professor Doctor Godman (!) Syngmann. He’s a Falstaffian Christ-figure, an entrepreneur and philosopher devoted to saving humanity through the practices of “epagogics” and “cosmobiology” (which he explains in deliriously funny conversations with the obliging Pastor). When Syngmann dies, and the issue of proper burial is (so to speak) reborn, Embi falls into the quasi-maternal clutches of middle-aged siren Gudrun Saemundsdottir, who drops by claiming to be Pastor Primus’s long-absent wife (and Syngmann’s adopted daughter), revealing her own lavishly picaresque history, and explaining to the distracted Embi logical connections between Catholicism and brothel-keeping, while carrying him off “to the end of the world.” Embi recovers; but whether this impishly chaotic novel does depends on how you read it. Is it an overextended anticlerical joke, a boisterous folk comedy, or, indeed, both?

Readers familiar with Laxness’s earlier works shouldn’t overlook this fascinating appendage to them. Those unfamiliar might do better to begin with Independent People or World Light.

Pub Date: March 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-3441-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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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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