Shapiro’s writing is crisp, refreshing and affecting—highly recommended.

BUMMER

As you can tell by the title, bad things happen to the characters in this collection of stories—but somehow they cope.

The title story begins “Man, I was having a bad day,” and this mantra summarizes the life of many of the women Shapiro focuses on. Here 21-year-old pregnant Alison plans a Vegas wedding with boyfriend Sean, but he only agrees to it if they can have a Fear and Loathing theme. They drive across the desert in a rented Eldorado with Sean so strung out he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Alison instead has a one-night stand with someone (Jose? Ramon? She’s not sure...), has beginner’s luck at the blackjack table and finally reaches a reconciliation with Sean. Several of the stories are set in the recent past and reflect the anxieties of those times. In “1966,” a girl and her sister pick up on their father’s cues that he might put a pool in their backyard, but ultimately (and painfully) they realize this is just a fantasy—perhaps a good thing, for the young narrator is irrationally apprehensive in this summer of Richard Speck’s murder of nurses and of students being shot from a tower at the University of Texas. In “Night and Day,” a 40-ish talent agent sleeps with some of the younger actors she represents and poignantly reminisces about her gay mentor Leon, who had drowned seven years earlier. In “Tiger Beat,” narrator Lita surprises herself by taking up with a struggling banana farmer in California and finds “There were dry spells, times I considered lowering my standards only to realize I had none.” The only story that doesn’t work is a sex-and-drug fantasy based on the seven dwarfs. Page, the narrator, has a tumble with all the dwarfs that will have her, but intense emotional pressures break up the group—and Grumpy eventually becomes a mortgage banker.

Shapiro’s writing is crisp, refreshing and affecting—highly recommended.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59376-296-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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