THE FUNNIES

A shapeless but engaging portrayal of its underachieving protagonist and narrator is the best feature of this bittersweet second novel by Lennon (The Light of Failing Stars, 1997). Unsuccessful artist Tim Mix returns home (Riverbank, New Jersey) for the funeral of his father Carl, a successful cartoonist whose popular “Family Funnies” strip had exploited his own family’s life. And that’s the problem: Carl’s widow Dorothy is in a nursing home suffering from “senile dementia”; their five children all inhibiting guilts and neuroses—notably, Tim’s uptight older brother Bobby and younger brother Pierce, a paranoid schizophrenic who seldom leaves the house. As the Mixes, uh, mix, reestablishing their essential (and mutual) unconcern, Tim contrarily finds himself drawn away from the independence he had created, and back into the orbits of his family and his father’s legacy. He inherits the opportunity to take over “Family Funnies,” and is feted by his hometown at a (hilarious) “Funny Fest” that celebrates Carl Mix’s fame (the town even renames itself “Mixville”). The story charts Tim’s imperfect adjustments to such temptations and distractions, as well as his relationships with Brad Wurster, the choleric artist who tutors him; Ken Dorn, the sinister rival cartoonist who has designs on “Family Funnies”; and Susan Lennon Caletti, his father’s editor, and, just possibly, the new woman in Tim’s life. Overall, it’s an uneven performance: Lennon’s prose (skillfully rendering Tim’s alert, wary sensibility) is witty and observant, studded with odd, often truculent imagery (“She had the long blotchy nose of a border collie and cheeks sunken enough to eat soup out of”), while his characterizations vary from, well, cartoonish to precise and affecting (the destroyed Dorothy and jittery Pierce are especially vivid). Tim Mix’s gradual transformation from passivity to involvement and accomplishment is his story’s wistful core. If you believe in it, you’ll like Lennon’s novel.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 1999

ISBN: 1-57322-126-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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