THE LIGHT OF COMMON DAY

Second-novelist Herman (The Weight of Love, 1995) chooses a genre—adolescent coming of age—that as book editor he must have seen in an excess beyond measure. To his credit, though, albeit amid many an echo of Wolfe, Fitzgerald, Knowles, and Salinger, he turns his version of the far too oft-told tale into a readable pleasure. Paul Werth goes to Highgate, a prep school just north of Manhattan, where many of his classmates live, though he himself is from ``the suburb'' where the school is located. Paul is a sophomore, in the spring of 1962, a time, Herman announces, ``when boys still wore their hair short and the United States was not at war in Vietnam and America had not yet heard of drugs or rebellion or failure. . . . `' Maybe so, but drugs are still one of the twin mainsprings making Herman's plot go round: Somebody is selling inside the school, and the headmaster is going to find out who. How could thoughtful, introspective Paul, a subtle thinker and omnivorous reader, conceivably be involved? Well, the second mainspring is that Paul's father died just 14 months before the book's opening—an event that plunged Paul not only into girl trouble, homework trouble, and a hitting slump in baseball, but into wondering whether life might be ``literally without meaning.'' He really could be drug-involved, in other words, not to mention that he's also friends with the devilishly cavalier Philip Richards, a character suspicious indeed. During the raveling of Paul's classically expectable fate, Herman is at his Fitzgeraldian best in describing parties, people's looks, the smells and feels of places—and the past. Very possibly best and truest in the book—and saddest—is Paul's passionate, long-ago, grade-school love affair with little Cassandra, who only too soon. . . . But let that stay unsaid. Herman has grown since his first book. Even working against the pitfalls of a wildly overused genre, he's able to bring in light, color, feeling, and life.

Pub Date: May 6, 1997

ISBN: 0-385-48318-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1997

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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