A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR

Irving’s latest LBM (Loose Baggy Monster, that is), which portrays with seriocomic gusto the literary life and its impact on both writers and their families, is simultaneously one of his most intriguing books and one of his most self-indulgent and flaccid. Though it’s primarily the story of successful novelist Ruth Cole, the lengthy foreground, set in Sagaponack, Long Island, in 1958, is dominated by Ruth’s parents, Ted and Marion, both minor novelists (though Ted later becomes rich and famous as a writer and illustrator of children’s stories), both mourning the deaths of their two teenaged sons in an automobile accident. Ted copes by seducing younger (often married) women; Marion, by bearing a daughter (Ruth) whom she’ll later abandon following her affair with 16-year-old Eddie O’Hare, a prep-school student hired by Ted as a “writer’s assistant.” Later sections, set in 1990 and 1995, dwell melodramatically on Ruth’s painstaking progress toward romantic happiness (including a European book tour that involves her with a prostitutes’-rights organization) and the lingering effects of their adolescent affair on Eddie, who’s now a middle-aged novelist and “perpetual visiting writer-in-residence” with a lifelong passion for older women. A grieving widow, offended by one of Ruth’s novels, pronounces a curse on her. Eddie accidentally learns that the fugitive Marion is living in Canada, writing detective novels (by now the bemused reader may have anticipated the question later put to Ruth: “Is everyone you know a writer?”). The story moves sluggishly, and overindulges both Irving’s (Trying to Save Piggy Sneed, 1996, etc.) love of intricate Victorian plots and his literary likes and dislikes. On the other hand, his characters are vividly imagined, insistent presences who get under your skin and stay with you. A thoughtful, if diffuse, examination of how writers make art of their lives and loves without otherwise benefitting from the process. The borderline-tearful ending is a bit much, but at least there aren’t any bears.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-375-50137-1

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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