THE INNOCENT

A NOVEL

McEwan's latest—his best shot at a popular novel—is something of a departure from his previous work (The Child in Time, The Comfort of Strangers, etc.), but no less skillful in design or execution. Part romance, part murder mystery, and part spy intrigue, this cool tale of postwar Berlin relies on a number of historical and dramatic ironies for its punch. As the Cold War begins to freeze, Leonard Marnham, a shy and dithering young electrician from England, is assigned to work on a top-secret, Anglo-American project in West Berlin. With no experience in intelligence, the "clumsy, reticent" Brit is soon engulfed in a world of secrecy. Bob Glass, Leonard's gruff Yank superior, considers the English inept and sloppy, incapable of seeing secrecy as the essence of individuality. For over a year, they have to work together on a massive piece of spying—the creation of an underground tunnel into the Russian sector that will allow the CIA and MI6 to tap master phonelines. As Leonard and Glass develop an improbable friendship, neither knows that the Russians have been on to them since the beginning. Meanwhile, Leonard—the most obvious "innocent" here—loses his virginity to a 30-year-old German woman, Maria Eckdorf, and begins a relationship that must also be shrouded in secrecy. Just as they settle into the miserable ordinariness of living together, they're visited by Maria's ex-husband, a violent drank, whom Leonard kills in self. defense. Fearing disbelief, the young couple attempt to cover up their crime, of which they're technically innocent. But the difficulties of dumping a hacked-up body lead Leonard back to his workplace, and also cause him to betray the project. When the Russians crash through the tunnel—for reasons unrelated to Leonard's conscious treason—he's eventually called home, but his once-pure love for Maria has been irreparably defiled. A coda, set 30 years later, solves many of the remaining mysteries, and suggests the depth of innocence and false knowledge at play back in the days of high-spying. McEwan's clinical account of dismemberment reminds us of the dark imagination displayed in his other work—it's also bound to turn off the wider audience who would otherwise enjoy this clean and clever fiction.

Pub Date: June 25, 1990

ISBN: 0385494335

Page Count: 271

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1990

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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