The best kind of satire: barbed and hilarious, but suffused with compassion.




Gavin's exceptional debut collection, set mainly in southern California, harkens to an earlier literary Los Angeles, that of Nathanael West, who, in The Day of the Locust, called Hollywood a "dream dump...the Sargasso of the imagination."

Gavin's bleakly funny, inventive stories feature hapless men caught between dire, pitiless reality—busted loves, dead parents, stillborn careers—and a golden (or at least spray-paint–gilded) mythology of manhood and of success that they can neither believe in nor bring themselves (quite) to throw out. Several stories feature young men making disastrous decisions and then following them to their conclusions in a way that would seem bathetic except that these young men, not having the consolation of delusion, steam toward misery with eyes open and mordant wit intact. There's the impoverished 20-something in "Bermuda" who gets himself fired from his job as a Meals on Wheels deliveryman so as to chase his reluctant beloved to her new job teaching music in paradise. He does this not to win her back—that's not in the cards, and he knows it—but because he sees that the only way out of the narrative he's foolishly invested so much in is to keep spiraling down to its humiliating end. In "Elephant Doors," an assistant to a mercurial, Belgium-obsessed quiz-show host is made to wriggle through a doggy door in the house of his ex-wife on a commando mission that cannot end but badly. The protagonist of "Illuminati" is a battered screenwriter still trying, long after the glory has faded, to nourish both himself and the "exalted visions I had of my future" off the proceeds from his one payday—for a "multi-ethnic buddy cop adventure comedy" called Hyde & Sikh. The poignant finale is a diptych about father-and-son toilet salesmen, the old man a veteran who feels most at home traversing the freeways, the son a fish hopelessly out of water, both bereft after the slow death by cancer of the woman—mother and wife—they loved.

The best kind of satire: barbed and hilarious, but suffused with compassion.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4931-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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