SARATOGA, HOT

Eight "little novels"—i.e., longish short stories—from the idiosyncratic author of strong short fiction and uneven novels; here, though none of the pieces is quite fully satisfying, the collection is only occasionally mired in the feverish imagery and lumbering verbiage that have seriously marred Calisher's recent work (On Keeping Women, Mysteries of Motion). The novella-length title story is one of the less successful entries, uneasily poised between comedy-of-manners (the Saratoga sporting set) and psychological closeup: the conflict-ridden marriage of bouncy horse-lover Tot and depressive, lame artist Nola—which somehow chugs along despite (or because of) their opposing sensibilities, their heavy loads of guilt. There's a similar, more satiric blend of milieu (upscale show-biz) and neurotic marriage (in the A Star is Born mode) in the brief "The Sound Track." And two other stories offer wildly contrasting views of New York City lifestyle: in the case-history-like "Survival Techniques," the narrator—a retired storekeeper living with his wife in a fine old midtown apartment-house—finds himself compelled to join the bag-ladies on his block ("I was not aiming to be pitiable, only never again to have to be a passerby"); in the fetching but overlong "The Tenth Child," the author reads an ad for a Park Ave. triplex ("Space for 1,000 Dresses and Room for Party for 100 Children")—and is quickly launched into an elaborate fantasy about the sort of family that would live in such a place. The other pieces, however, even if laced with contemporary details, are more personal, less social. "Real Impudence" is a slightly clinical, fairly wry study of eccentric relationships in a Greenwich Village menage. ("It's all a question of knowing who to latch onto.") "The Library" is a faintly soupy retrospective—about a charismatic Englishwoman who has just died, about the three Americans who loved her, becoming a "family of husbands." And the collection is rounded out by two first-person memoirs: a woman recalls her ambivalent feelings about her mother, her own ironic fate ("now I am you"), in "Gargantua"; "The Passenger"—the thoughts of a woman writer en route by train from Chicago to New York—is plainly autobiographical, rather formless, occasionally humorous. . . and often excessive. ("Peoples' agonies are like dunes I stumble in, always falling with my fangs in my own wrist.") Inventive, observant, murky, florid: the familiar mixed bag of Calisher virtues and drawbacks—but without the oppressive longueurs of her recent novels.

Pub Date: May 1, 1985

ISBN: 0385199759

Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1985

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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