A THOUSAND PEACEFUL CITIES

If laughter actually is the best medicine, fortunate readers of this wonderful novel will surely enjoy perfect health for...

A planned political assassination is the central subject of this delightful 1997 novel, the third to reach English translation from its award-winning, highly popular Polish author (The Mighty Angel, 2009, etc.).

It begins with a killer first sentence (no giveaway here) announcing the master plan concocted by two of Pilch’s three protagonists: to travel from their tiny village (Wisla) to Warsaw and murder Worker’s (i.e., Communist ) Party leader Wladyslaw Gomulka. The conspirators are the father of teenaged narrator Jerzyk, a retired postal administrator, and his ebullient comrade Mr. Traba, a defrocked clergyman, devout boozehound and would-be patriot and liberator. In fact, Mr. T. is a man of talk—and wonderful, self-important, loony palaver his emotional harangues are, echoing the accents of Tristram Shandy’s Uncle Toby (as European critics have noted), with cacophonous grace notes reminiscent of Voltaire and Rabelais. Meanwhile, we’re made privy to the secret thoughts of reluctant fellow anarchist Jerzyk, who’s more interested in lusting after a pair of lissome upstairs boarders, while simultaneously laboring to dream chastely of the older girl he declares “the angel of my first love,” and enduring female reproofs which warn him that “Amorousness combined with erotic illiteracy is a dangerous combination.” Mr. T.’s sinister plot (which involves the use of a Chinese crossbow) occasions spirited debate among such blissfully eccentric neighbors as a loquacious sexton who admires the interminable historical novels of Henryk Sienkiewicz and a feisty pastor who considers the question whether Catholics or Protestants make the best assassins. All is eventually rationalized as needed, Jerzyk’s itches remain mostly unscratched, and The World Goes On.

If laughter actually is the best medicine, fortunate readers of this wonderful novel will surely enjoy perfect health for the rest of their days.

Pub Date: July 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-934824-27-6

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Awards & Accolades

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A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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