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SABBATICAL

A ROMANCE

Some critics have long suspected that the "meta-fiction" experimentalists (those who erect a barricade of cold, ornate literary devices between story and reader) are really the least tough-minded writers around, that they often use parody and formalism to fend off—or cover up—the thin sentimentality at the heart of their work. For such critics, then, Barth's new novel will come as no surprise—because, in spite of an almost endearingly desperate attempt to trick it up with narrative hijinks, this is a tender, apparently autobiographical love story that often verges (with no sign of parody) on slurpy soap opera. Fenwick Turner, 50-year-old ex-CIA agent (he wrote an expose), is taking a sailboat-cruise vacation around Chesapeake Bay and beyond with young second-wife Susan—a Jewish literature prof on sabbatical; and the novel we're reading is the novel Fenwick is writing during the cruise. The narration constantly slides from first person ("we") to third. There are Fenwick/Susan debates on narrative techniques. (Endless jokes about "fieshbecks"—if and how to use them.) There are cutesy footnotes—plus the vision of a sea-monster. And there's a CIA subplot, wanly derivative yet not pointed enough for parody: Fenwick's brother and nephew have both disappeared on CIA missions; a mole's lurking somewhere; the CIA may now be out to eliminate Fenwick—or to pressure him into recruiting his geneticist son. But, while the literary games were central to other Barth fictions, here they're merely dressing for a conventional marriage/family novel: "We're at a fork in our channel. We've got to settle the question of having children." So there are flashbacks to Fenwick's first marriage, to the F/S courtship (he was first her "Uncle," since his brother sort-of-married Susan's part-Gypsy mother); there are visits with relatives on both sides (the book's best moments involve Susan's mother and grandmother); Susan toys with the idea of adultery ("She wants clandestine servicing. Anna K! Emma B! . . . All that shit, you know?"); she gets unintentionally pregnant and aborts secretly. And finally there's a treacle-with-sex upbeat ending—as the spouses agree to have children, revel in Fenwick's wonderful book ("our love will be in it, and our friendship too"), and sail off into "Happily ever after." Admittedly, this is not a successful book by either Barth-ian or old-fashioned standards: it's more often arch than funny, more often embarrassing than involving. But it's an intriguing, touching spectacle nonetheless—the avant-garde meets banal-romance—and it's certainly Barth's most accessible novel since The Sot-Weed Factor.

Pub Date: May 24, 1982

ISBN: 1564780961

Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1982

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IT ENDS WITH US

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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SEEING RED

As the plot grows more complicated, it also sheds believability, leaving sex and witty banter to carry the day.

Brown (Mean Streak, 2014, etc.) ticks off the boxes that elevate her books to the bestseller lists in this sexy romantic thriller set in Texas.

Rock-jawed hero with a dark past: check. Strong-willed, beautiful woman who resists his charms: check. A Whitman’s Sampler of bad guys: check. And finally, a convoluted and not always plausible plot: check. In this latest outing, readers meet TV journalist Kerra Bailey, whose family was torn apart years ago by a hotel bombing that killed 197 people in Dallas. Just in time for the 25th anniversary, Kerra scores an interview with the notoriously private Maj. Trapper, who saved her life, among others, when he emerged from the blast to lead the survivors out of danger. There's an iconic, prizewinning photo of the major carrying a little girl from the wreckage, but the child has never been identified—until now, when Kerra goes public with the information that it was her. Just after they finish filming the interview in his home, the major is shot, and an injured Kerra escapes in the confusion. The major’s son, disgraced Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent John Trapper—a name M*A*S*H fans will appreciate—steps in, igniting a chain of events that leads to murder, intrigue, betrayal, and a series of dark revelations. As with most of Brown’s heroes and heroines, there’s palpable sexual tension between Trapper, whose taut rear occupies ample literary real estate, and Kerra, who when dealing with Trapper feels “like he’d lightly scratched her just below her bellybutton” when he’s not making her “pleasure points throb.” The complex plot plays out in a round of reveals that don’t always make a lot of sense, but that’s not why Brown’s fans read her books. They check in for the witty, pitch-perfect dialogue and fluid writing. A master of her genre, Brown knows how to please her most ardent readers but relies too often on the same basic formula from novel to novel.

As the plot grows more complicated, it also sheds believability, leaving sex and witty banter to carry the day.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7210-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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