Self-consciously elegiac while emotionally distant.

THE GREAT FAR AWAY

The dissolution of paradise is the theme of this novella about a community of youthful free spirits who mature into more settled conventionality and eventually fall back into the very patterns they were trying to avoid.

In the 1970s, young people dropping out of college or careers find themselves in Ferris, a northern California beach town. Since many are trying to escape their parents’ conventional expectations and their personal histories, they make living in the present moment their goal. Taking undemanding jobs, they spend their free time hanging out, banding together in a loose countercultural tribe. Naturally, romances spring up. Energetic Randy, who works with senior citizens, ends up with Alma, an earth-mother type. After his first girlfriend, Annie, dumps him, college dropout Graham turns to efficient, lively Darla. Both couples, like most of their community, marry and have kids. They start to create real homes, which require earning real money. Into the ’80s, the sense of communality lingers as Ferris gentrifies. Then at a tribe campfire on the beach, unexpected passion ignites between Randy and Darla. Along with physical attraction, the two share ambitions and a sense of entitlement that Alma and Graham lack. The affair goes on for years until their children are in their early teens, when Alma discovers the truth. After their subsequent divorces, Randy marries Darla and enters politics. Alma and Graham fade from view. Ferris becomes another sprawling bedroom suburb. Frank (Boys Keep Being Born, 2001, etc.) uses a narrator slightly removed from events. The reader learns only midway through that Annie is telling the story, piecing it together from letters she received after leaving Ferris. While imagining a past she did not witness, she implies rather than raises interesting questions about the seeds of the tribe’s failure. The individual characters remain sketches—even Graham, whom Annie presumably knew well.

Self-consciously elegiac while emotionally distant.

Pub Date: March 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-57962-148-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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Morrison traces the shifting shapes of suffering and mythic accommodations, through the shell of psychosis to the core of a...

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BELOVED

Morrison's truly majestic fifth novel—strong and intricate in craft; devastating in impact.

Set in post-Civil War Ohio, this is the story of how former slaves, psychically crippled by years of outrage to their bodies and their humanity, attempt to "beat back the past," while the ghosts and wounds of that past ravage the present. The Ohio house where Sethe and her second daughter, 10-year-old Denver, live in 1873 is "spiteful. Full of a [dead] baby's venom." Sethe's mother-in-law, a good woman who preached freedom to slave minds, has died grieving. It was she who nursed Sethe, the runaway—near death with a newborn—and gave her a brief spell of contentment when Sethe was reunited with her two boys and first baby daughter. But the boys have by now run off, scared, and the murdered first daughter "has palsied the house" with rage. Then to the possessed house comes Paul D., one of the "Pauls" who, along with Sethe, had been a slave on the "Sweet Home" plantation under two owners—one "enlightened," one vicious. (But was there much difference between them?) Sethe will honor Paul D.'s humiliated manhood; Paul D. will banish Sethe's ghost, and hear her stories from the past. But the one story she does not tell him will later drive him away—as it drove away her boys, and as it drove away the neighbors. Before he leaves, Paul D. will be baffled and anxious about Sethe's devotion to the strange, scattered and beautiful lost girl, "Beloved." Then, isolated and alone together for years, the three women will cling to one another as mother, daughter, and sister—found at last and redeemed. Finally, the ex-slave community, rebuilding on ashes, will intervene, and Beloved's tortured vision of a mother's love—refracted through a short nightmare life—will end with her death.

Morrison traces the shifting shapes of suffering and mythic accommodations, through the shell of psychosis to the core of a victim's dark violence, with a lyrical insistence and a clear sense of the time when a beleaguered peoples' "only grace...was the grace they could imagine."

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1987

ISBN: 9781400033416

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1987

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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