The novel doesn’t feel unfinished so much as unbalanced.


Posthumously published, this narrative raises provocative issues concerning art, celebrity, creativity, sexuality and spirituality, while never quite working as a novel.

Before his death at the age of 60, Carroll had earned renown decades ago, as a teenage memoirist (The Basketball Diaries, 1978), a poet and a punk-rocker. The protagonist of his only novel is Billy Wolfram, “the golden boy of the New York—indeed international—art world. Billy was only 38 years old, and his star had risen steadily since his first show at 21.” Though Billy is both a prodigy and a Manhattan native like his creator, the painter isn’t merely an authorial stand-in. He receives visits from a talking raven who is apparently immortal (it shares memories of Noah and the Ark) and who serves as both oracle and muse. He has also been celibate since his unfortunate attempt at masturbation may have had a causal connection with the Kennedy assassination. The bare-bones plot begins with Billy’s anxiety attacks, which land him in a mental ward after he attends the opening of an exhibition that suggests to him how much spirituality his own work lacks. During his recovery as something of a recluse, with a looming deadline for his next show, he takes stock of his life through memories of pivotal passages and through minimal interaction with his assistant, Marta, and his boyhood friend, the rock star Denny MacAbee. Much of the stilted dialogue expands into multi-paragraph soliloquies, as Billy doesn’t so much converse as expound. (“ ‘One thing’s for sure, there will be no meeting of minds if our elected officials continue to slash funding for public art—mainly because of their own antiquated tastes and moral codes.’ ”) The author has a lot to say about art—its creation and consumption, its relationship with sex and spirit—but this isn’t the best platform.

The novel doesn’t feel unfinished so much as unbalanced.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-670-02218-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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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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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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