Smart, funny and eager to fly its freak flag.

THE DEAD DO NOT IMPROVE

A Pynchon-esque menagerie of California surfers, cops, thugs and dot-com workers converge in a comic anti-noir.

In his debut novel, Kang, a journalist and editor at the online magazine Grantland, does some serious musing on gentrification and racism (particularly toward Asians), but the storyline and overall tone are satirical. Set in present-day San Francisco, the story runs on two alternating tracks, following two lead characters toward an inevitable confrontation. Philip Kim is a recent MFA graduate who's stuck working on a website counseling recently dumped men, and Sid Finch is a homicide cop who, between surf breaks at Ocean Beach, is investigating the murder of Dolores, a neighbor of Philip’s. Connecting the two is an organization called Being Abundance, a hyper-PC group of activists targeting the city’s leading online pornographer and online culture in general. Kang sends up the Bay Area's moralizing atmosphere along with its inherent weirdness, but he also parlays the setup into some surprisingly affecting observations: Philip’s budding relationship with a gorgeous neighbor sparks incisive passages on San Francisco’s tense mix of races and cultures, and he has plenty of insights on hip-hop, social media and Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech mass murderer. Finch, in turn, gives the story a hard-boiled, Hammett-esque feel, with sharp takes of the city’s smut culture and surfer dudes. (San Francisco retro-rock musician and surfer Chris Isaak has a brief, funny cameo.) The structure of this novel is loose to the point of near-collapse—at times it feels like it’s held together with Simpsons references and easy digs at West Coast liberals, while the closing pages satirize thriller climaxes in particular and narrative arcs in general. But Kang mostly earns the right to his metafictional games, capturing the sense of disconnection of a young minority in the city.

Smart, funny and eager to fly its freak flag.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95388-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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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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