MUSIC FOR TORCHING

Paul and Elaine Weiss have a very bad ten days in this newest by Homes (The End of Alice, 1996, etc.), who takes her penchant for extreme situations and behavior to the suburbs. It begins as a typical Westchester County weekend: a dinner party followed by a barbecue at which everyone drinks too much and reveals their boredom and unhappiness—except that the Weisses top their neighbors in acting out. Elaine cuts Paul’s neck with a knife on Friday; he has phone sex with their divorced buddy Henry’s new girlfriend on Saturday; and they join forces on Sunday to set fire to their house, then head for a motel with their sons, sullen teen Daniel and asthmatic nine-year-old Sammy. Homes flings us into the middle of her protagonists” messed-up lives, yet for a long time keeps her readers emotionally distant from them. Whether detailing a lesbian encounter on a washing machine or genital tattooing, the narration doesn—t bat an eye or hazard an explanation. This trendy flat affect consorts oddly but aptly with the author’s rather generic satire of suburban society: though the time is clearly the present, the wives obsess about laundry and meals while the husbands commute to unspecified jobs at anonymous corporations in approved “50s fashion. It seems at first that Homes intends merely to patronize her characters. Then slowly, sneakily, without softening the weirdness and nasty edges of their actions, she entangles us in a sense of complicity with Elaine, Paul, and their equally troubled friends. “None are what they seem, none are what you think, none are what you—d want them to be,” she writes in the book’s most moving passage. “They all are both more and less—deeply human.” Although too heavily foreshadowed, the climax is still shocking, drawing a jagged curtain across a drama with plenty of conflict but no real resolution. Seldom subtle but often effective and almost always deeply creepy. People will be talking about this one. (QPB featured alternate; author tour)

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16711-X

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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