THE BOBBY SOXER

Another jolting, maddening, occasionally exhilarating trip on Calisher's Hovercraft fiction, as again the misty distance between the plot frame and the Meaning-of-It-All offers both dazzlements and headachy obscurations. The scene is a New Jersey town in the 50's and onward, on one of those streets "where the existence of, well, real life could not hope to be concealed," and where a young woman shapes her awakening psyche, as a playwright stirs a nest of family secrets. Craig Towle, the town's famous playwright, is the one who married the "bobby-soxer" half his age (who will later die poisoned by her unborn child). And the female narrator will also have been used by ToMe ("he married our age") as a voice for his creation—a play based on her family's exotic/erotic secrets; the play, never produced, will wither, stillborn. While Towle, the user and abuser, looms offstage, a tangle of family-folk knits and loosens ties, exchanges houses, poses puzzles. Mother, once Towle's lover, inherits money—from Father's mistress? Or had Father a different sexual proclivity? Brother Tim, who spent a boyhood with Grandmother Nessa, is on the periphery of the central mystery. This is rooted in Grandmother's dead sibling Leo—seen as a woman's face in a fading photograph. Artifacts in the present celebrate Leo: an image of two bikes side by side; a wedding dress, offered as a challenge to Nessa by Towle, as he prepares to discard it in a dump. It's Towle who will revive the story of Leo, the man/woman whose strength and tenderness obscured sexual divisions. And it is at her (aborted) wedding, to artist a graveyard, "at the double knot of my own legend." Convoluted and packed with some startling perceptions, as well as those lumpish throwaways ("Sandwiches make me optimistic"; or "What is sex but a question the body answers?"). Still, this lush mix of insights and fictional outtakes is more manageable and tighter than Calisher's previous novels. A wildly uneven talent—but un-ignorable.

Pub Date: March 28, 1986

ISBN: 0385184263

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1986

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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