A meandering but often funny and entertaining picaresque about the Mormon faith.

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ROUNDTOWER

THE DEVIL IN IRELAND I

Mormon missionaries encounter hard times and a Mephistophelian menace in von Osten’s (This Happy Life, 2013, etc.) raucous coming-of-age satire.

In 1967, with the Vietnam War raging, plenty of young Mormon men try to escape the draft by undertaking two-year missionary stints for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But John Gaumless, a Salt Lake City native whose high draft number makes him exempt from call-up, has genuinely spiritual motives, stoked by his high-minded girlfriend, Marylou. Alas, his time proselytizing in Northern Ireland gradually erodes his illusions about the church. The Irish people, Protestant and Catholic alike, respond to Mormon overtures with curses, hurled rocks and tossed chamber pots. The mission’s president is a feckless man who spends his time feeding his swans as his seething wife and scheming underlings plot petty power plays. Bored, lonely, cold and depressed, the other young missionaries transgress the Mormon strictures against alcohol and engage in back-stabbing rivalries and furtive gay trysts. John, a floundering innocent, finds his only friend in Orson Roundtower—a handsome, sardonic Brigham Young University basketball star who prefers Dostoevsky to the Book of Mormon and regards LDS doctrine with bemused contempt. (At one point, Roundtower ups his conversion numbers by bribing an Irish family to undergo Mormon baptism in exchange for bottles of orange Fanta.) John finds Roundtower to be an island of relaxed urbanity in a sea of hypocritical dogmatism, but as their relationship intensifies, he starts to wonder why villagers flee from his friend—and why so many missionaries keep dying in his vicinity. Von Osten’s sendup of Mormon doctrine, rituals and culture is detailed and cutting. Marylou’s antic letters to John, stuffed with Mormon piety and ditzy uplift—“When the tough get going, the going gets tough!”—are particularly hilarious. The book’s portrait of bedraggled teenage missionaries, feigning religious ardor as a coverup for self-interest and bureaucratic inertia, is well-observed throughout. The narrative does feel somewhat aimless, though, except when Roundtower takes center stage with his debonair charisma, rakish humor and unapologetic mischievousness. Before Roundtower’s villainy subsides, a bit disappointingly, into mere melodrama, he presents a compelling case for why deviltry remains such an appealing alternative to holiness.

A meandering but often funny and entertaining picaresque about the Mormon faith.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500668648

Page Count: 356

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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