BARN BLIND

In this unusual first novel Smiley, with flawless command of the shaky grandeurs and gritty drudgery which can absorb the equestrian fancy, matches the openended rigors of the discipline with one woman's tragically destructive obsession. Kate Karlsen, owner of 50 horses in the Illinois countryside, trainer hnd instructor, a "failed equestrienne" in the Big Time and a severe convert to Catholicism, manages her family of four children—college dropout Margaret, 17-year-old Peter, 15-year-old John, pre-teen Henry—by inflexible rules: a code of manners for stable management, horsemanship, household and school duties. "Kate felt certain. . . of the loveliness of those rules. . . the nearly sensual pleasure in following them, lashing oneself to them." And husband Axel, from whom Kate has withdrawn in a gesture of shriving asceticism, is still fascinated by this unapproachable, driven woman who loves her children but is blind to their needs and personalities. Through the days of hard, grinding labor (the entire complex is manned only by the children) what did they know of anything besides horses? And did anyone ever ask them if they liked horses? While the family prepares for the shows, the restless adolescents, long suppressed and bewildered by disorienting visions of simple freedoms, are shocked into abortive protest: John, resenting his mother's passionate championing of Peter, as her best training product and given her best mount, resorts to untypical cruelty and neglect of the horses; Margaret encourages a casual flirtation with an older horseman but dreams of ordinary dates; Henry plans to run away. And at the show on the Karlsen complex the family will ride together for the last time—handsome, straight-backed, "all six attesting to the wisdom of Kate's theories and methods." The lives, drawn taut, will snap. John is killed, leaving Axel, Margaret, and Henry, like discarded marionettes, slumped in grief. . . but weeks later Kate and Peter, enslaved forever by Kate's lifelong "tigerish" circling of unattainable perfection, are working on the training field in a "frightening happiness." A devastating probe of a woman sealed within that (to most of us) alien world of the track and paddock; special—but deep-driving.

Pub Date: June 2, 1980

ISBN: 0786202777

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1980

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Morrison traces the shifting shapes of suffering and mythic accommodations, through the shell of psychosis to the core of a...

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BELOVED

Morrison's truly majestic fifth novel—strong and intricate in craft; devastating in impact.

Set in post-Civil War Ohio, this is the story of how former slaves, psychically crippled by years of outrage to their bodies and their humanity, attempt to "beat back the past," while the ghosts and wounds of that past ravage the present. The Ohio house where Sethe and her second daughter, 10-year-old Denver, live in 1873 is "spiteful. Full of a [dead] baby's venom." Sethe's mother-in-law, a good woman who preached freedom to slave minds, has died grieving. It was she who nursed Sethe, the runaway—near death with a newborn—and gave her a brief spell of contentment when Sethe was reunited with her two boys and first baby daughter. But the boys have by now run off, scared, and the murdered first daughter "has palsied the house" with rage. Then to the possessed house comes Paul D., one of the "Pauls" who, along with Sethe, had been a slave on the "Sweet Home" plantation under two owners—one "enlightened," one vicious. (But was there much difference between them?) Sethe will honor Paul D.'s humiliated manhood; Paul D. will banish Sethe's ghost, and hear her stories from the past. But the one story she does not tell him will later drive him away—as it drove away her boys, and as it drove away the neighbors. Before he leaves, Paul D. will be baffled and anxious about Sethe's devotion to the strange, scattered and beautiful lost girl, "Beloved." Then, isolated and alone together for years, the three women will cling to one another as mother, daughter, and sister—found at last and redeemed. Finally, the ex-slave community, rebuilding on ashes, will intervene, and Beloved's tortured vision of a mother's love—refracted through a short nightmare life—will end with her death.

Morrison traces the shifting shapes of suffering and mythic accommodations, through the shell of psychosis to the core of a victim's dark violence, with a lyrical insistence and a clear sense of the time when a beleaguered peoples' "only grace...was the grace they could imagine."

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1987

ISBN: 9781400033416

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1987

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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