An intelligent but fictionally unspectacular drama.


A female Christian-theology student struggles in a male-dominated religious landscape in McCullagh’s (USS Bunker Kills, 2014, etc.) novel. 

Bronx graduate student Colette McGovern decides to write her senior theology thesis on the Council of Trent, a historically important but bewilderingly complex council that the Catholic Church staged in the mid-16th century, responding to Protestant calls for reform. She seems ambivalent about her spirituality; she wishes she could tell her mother—a devout Catholic who’s peculiarly enthusiastic about ecclesiastical Latin—that she no longer wishes to attend weekly mass, as Simone de Beauvoir once defiantly told hers. Then Colette has an emotionally arresting dream in which Pope Paul II sinks mysteriously into the earth, wearing “soft robes” that feel “gentle and feminine” to her; it’s an experience so haunting that she seeks interpretive assistance from the campus counselor. Colette tries to find a way to understand the Council of Trent, and Catholicism at large, as being hospitable to feminine life, but she consistently encounters sexism: “The Church seems to have spent the last two thousand years shoring up a male hierarchy. So much time was spent arguing over the Immaculate Conception and all the rest that seems like myth and nonsense to eternally define the female.” Her dreams become more erotically charged, and her study of Trent more personal, as she begins to find spiritual inspiration in Giovanni Boccaccio’s 1374 biographical collection Famous Women. Throughout this novel, McCullagh displays impressive erudition, confidently traversing a broad swath of intellectual history with aplomb. He also palpably depicts Colette’s spiritual turmoil, sensitively portraying it in the context of the death of her father and in her emotional struggle with a past abortion. In addition, the author puts forward provocative questions about the place of women in Catholicism. However, the prose style can be overwrought and overly academic at times. As suggested by the subtitle—A Psychological, Religious, and Historical Novel—the work seems to be driven more by the need to conduct a philosophical inquiry than to craft a dramatic plot. 

An intelligent but fictionally unspectacular drama.

Pub Date: May 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-979059-90-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

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


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet