CHESAPEAKE

A NOVEL

Without the frame or the focus that loosely held Centennial together, this massive but arbitrarily fragmented East-Coast community history—a Maryland island, 1583-1978—is almost devoid of traditional novelistic pleasure. The hundred or so characters are firmly presented as types (e.g., "Bartley Paxmore, at thirty-one, was the new-style Quaker"), most of them members of three representative families: the Catholic, landowning, upper-class progeny of Edmund Steed, who explored the Chesapeake with John Smith in 1608; the dumb but spirited lower-class progeny of Timothy Turlock, who came to Maryland as an indentured servant; and the steady, middle-class, shipbuilding progeny of Quaker Edmund Paxmore, who was dumped in Maryland in 1661 after extensive Massachusetts whippings. Over the years, these clans must deal with pirates, storms, incest, sexism (yes, many of the women here are unlikely feminists), bastards born of philandering, the Revolution (all three broods eventually join in, even the royalist Steeds), and—about half the book—the slavery question. The Turlocks are slimy slave traders, the Steeds are gentle slave owners, the Paxmores are fierce abolitionists, and—in a rather shameless lift from Roots—the Caters are slaves who are seen under the whip and under the covers, in Mandingo-style triangles ("You want to stay longer, honey?"). On to the Civil War (eight pages), the oyster-dredging business, and the 20th Century—which is reduced to three bizarrely selective vignettes: a Paxmore rescuing 40,000 Jews from Hitler, the desegregation struggle, and. . . Watergate, with another Paxmore committing suicide over his White House involvement. As fiction, then—shallow and sketchy throughout, with no theme (except "It's gone. It's all gone") to link or enrich the melodramatic episodes. Nor does all of Michener's digested research produce painless fact feasts: much reads like a junior-high text ("Three reasons accounted for this"); the guest appearances by such as Henry Clay and Geo. Washington ("Your deal, General") seem silly; and the dialectic debates on religion and slavery are dull. But on such matters as shipbuilding, oystering, duck-hunting, Jimmy the blue crab ("that delicious crustacean"), and Onk-or the goose, Michener is a grand popularizer of craft and science. That considerable gift, together with the immense Michener clout, is sure to send millions of readers plunging into what seems like a million blandly readable pages of humdrum history and formula fiction.

Pub Date: July 24, 1978

ISBN: 0812970438

Page Count: 896

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1978

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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An elegant, pithy performance by a first-time novelist who couldn’t seem more familiar with his characters or territory.

RULES OF CIVILITY

Manhattan in the late 1930s is the setting for this saga of a bright, attractive and ambitious young woman whose relationships with her insecure roommate and the privileged Adonis they meet in a jazz club are never the same after an auto accident.

Towles' buzzed-about first novel is an affectionate return to the post–Jazz Age years, and the literary style that grew out of it (though seasoned with expletives). Brooklyn girl Katey Kontent and her boardinghouse mate, Midwestern beauty Eve Ross, are expert flirts who become an instant, inseparable threesome with mysterious young banker Tinker Grey. With him, they hit all the hot nightspots and consume much alcohol. After a milk truck mauls his roadster with the women in it, permanently scarring Eve, the guilt-ridden Tinker devotes himself to her, though he and she both know he has stronger feelings for Katey. Strong-willed Katey works her way up the career ladder, from secretarial job on Wall Street to publisher’s assistant at Condé Nast, forging friendships with society types and not allowing social niceties to stand in her way. Eve and Tinker grow apart, and then Kate, belatedly seeing Tinker for what he is, sadly gives up on him. Named after George Washington's book of moral and social codes, this novel documents with breezy intelligence and impeccable reserve the machinations of wealth and power at an historical moment that in some ways seems not so different from the current one. Tinker, echoing Gatsby, is permanently adrift. The novel is a bit light on plot, relying perhaps too much on description. But the characters are beautifully drawn, the dialogue is sharp and Towles avoids the period nostalgia and sentimentality to which a lesser writer might succumb.

An elegant, pithy performance by a first-time novelist who couldn’t seem more familiar with his characters or territory.

Pub Date: July 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02269-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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