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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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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