SWEET WILLIAM

A MEMOIR OF OLD HORSE

Hawkes's readers have watched him use horses (or stand-ins for them) time after time; in the 1988 Whistlejacket, the equine finally became a subject of its own in a novel about horse-as-object and horse-as-subject. The latter has developed into this book, in which a horse—Sweet William, name changed later to Petrarch—narrates the story of his life. That life, as you'd expect from Hawkes, is one of periodic violent traumas and gothic cruelties: his mother being killed soon after she gives birth (the putting-down is botched; the horse is buried alive, struggles from its grave, and must be put-down again); a brief and physically painful racing career; the humiliation of a dude ranch; finally, the comic eccentricity of being stabled in the gentleman's farm of Master, a milquetoasty but kind virgin who's lorded over by his Irish stablehand Ralph. The story lurches onward, amounting to very little—other than to wrap fond authorial observations about the life of a horse in fancy-pants prose that it's hard to credit direct-in-action Sweet William with (``A large storm, a quiet storm, for the old horse strange and familiar all at once, freighted as it is with the shapes and shadows of recovered youth. Yet sinister in its steadiness, its resolution, its promise that it might not stop until the lot of us—horses, cats, men, barns—have been effaced in nothing less than total obliteration''). Still, the novel ends on one of those notes of epiphanic oddness that Hawkes occasionally does better than almost anyone: Sweet William/Petrarch lives out his last days in the company of a dying goat named Chester: who for a moment, seen from a distance, seems to the horse at first to be—with its aged horn—a unicorn. This section, like a coda of sickness and illusion and redemption, is quite beautiful—though it can't finally tip the balance away from the word-embroidery and fussy stylistics of the rest.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 1993

ISBN: 0-671-74057-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1993

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more