Willett is trying for black comedy but doesn’t find the right blend of light and dark. Abby’s flip-flops, Dorcas’s puzzling...

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD

A NOVEL OF FAME, HONOR, AND REALLY BAD WEATHER

Hidden behind that dumb title is a mildly creepy tale of misbegotten love and ultimate revenge, a second outing from Willett (Jenny and the Jaws of Life, 1987).

The action is set in Rhode Island in the 1970s. Abigail and Dorcas Mather are twins, born in 1938, and polar opposites, as we are reminded repeatedly. Dorcas is mind, Abigail is body. Dorcas, the narrator, who will become a head librarian, decides at age 12 that she will reserve her sensuality for books: “I yearned for duty the way Abigail yearned to show her ass.” And show it she does, one carousing night, to the football team, who promptly gang-rape her. Abigail is simply happy to be the center of attention. She’ll go on to a brief first marriage and motherhood (the twins raise daughter Anna together) before becoming a “mailman” and poisoning half the marriages in town. On her rounds, she meets Guy De Vilbiss, world-famous poet, and his sycophantic wife Hilda; the pear-shaped Guy and sheeplike Hilda come across as unprepossessing freaks. Through this couple, the twins meet Conrad Lowe, who will be their nemesis. Most famous for the exposé of his mother, an evil Hollywood diva, Conrad is a manipulative sadist, “ a ladies’ man who hated ladies.” While Dorcas reads him correctly, Abigail, though no masochist, falls in love with him, and Conrad relishes her as the perfect victim. On their honeymoon, Conrad chains the seriously overweight Abby to the bed and starves her. The marriage goes downhill from there, and Conrad even manages to humiliate the virtuous Dorcas sexually before Abby recovers her pride and runs Conrad over, eight times.

Willett is trying for black comedy but doesn’t find the right blend of light and dark. Abby’s flip-flops, Dorcas’s puzzling celibacy, and Conrad’s dated, Noel Coward–like Waspishness just don’t help.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-312-31181-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2003

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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