DEMOCRACY

"Fitful glimpses" from the 1960s/'70s life of glamorous Inez Christian Victor—wife of Senator Harry Victor (a onetime Presidential aspirant), daughter of Honolulu colonial aristocracy, and supposed acquaintance of writer Joan Didion, who sprinkles this short, glossily disjointed novel with precious authorial warnings, asides, and false starts. ("I am resisting narrative here.") In a heavy, gimmicky style more suited to New Journalism than fiction, narrator Didion ("Call me the author") assembles vi. gnettes from—and mini-essays about—Inez's existence in the public eye: the "major cost" of such a life, we're repeatedly told, is "memory." Thus, Inez has "come to view most occasions as photo opportunities." She endures the pressures of political wifedom (including Harry's infidelities) with "passive detachment." Her teenage children are disasters, of course—piggy son Adlai and drug-addict daughter Jessie. And the only real emotional connections for Inez seem to be her encounters through the decades with steely Jack Lovett, an older man who's some sort of spy/diplomat/entrepreneur. ("They were equally evanescent, in some way emotionally invisible; unattached, wary to the point of opacity, and finally elusive. They seemed not to belong anywhere at all, except, oddly, together.") Then, as insistently foreshadowed throughout, 1975 melodrama triggers a change in this passive life: Inez's insane father kills her sister and an Hawaiian congressman; meanwhile, daughter Jessie disappears—determined to be a waitress in collapsing South Vietnam. So Inez, shaken, leaves insensitive Harry and his venal political-machine at last, running off to Kuala Lumpur with Jack—who manages to find Jessie in the midst of the Saigon evacuation. And finally, after Jack dies, Inez acquires a global social conscience (she "ceased to claim the American exemption"), devoting her life to working at Southeast Asian refugee camps. A dissection of false-fronted political lifestyles? An indictment of American ethnocentricity? Well, Didion hammers away at both those themes—producing a few very shrewd nasty/funny lines of dialogue but little more. Meanwhile, the characters remain lifeless objects of smug, essayistic scrutiny, kept at a far distance by all the narrative tricks (Didion-as-character, roman a clef inklings, etc.). Still, the surfaces here—full of observant detail and aggressive, ironic sophistication-are likely to satisfy much of Didion's readership. And if the book-world's hype machine can make a major novel out of Renata Adler's Pitch Dark, it can certainly do as much for this more accessible, more political, but quite similar arrival: a chic literary objet with a thin soap-opera center.

Pub Date: April 25, 1984

ISBN: 0679754857

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1984

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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