How many times can Irving, novelist-as-juggler, throw the same subjects, metaphors, and tricks—bears, motorcycles, prep schools, hotels, Vienna, muscle-building, feminism—up into the air? Five times so far, including the renowned, genuinely endearing Garp. How many times can he then catch them? Only four times, it seems—because this time, in the weakest of all his books, the juggled pieces come clattering down around Irving's feet: he has again trotted out his genial cartoon . . . but here he has left out the animation. The Berry family, up in Dairy, N.H.—where dad Win teaches at a second-rate prep school in the Fifties—also includes Mom, eldest son Frank (who's gay), earthy Franny, narrator John, dwarf sister Lilly (who'll one day write a best-selling novel), little Egg, and Sorrow the dog. When the girl's section of the school fails, Win buys it and transforms the building into the Hotel New Hampshire: he's nostalgic for summers of his youth when he bellhopped at a Maine resort that featured a refugee animal-trainer named Freud and his performing bear, State O'Maine. (There's also been a bit of bad business at the school: sister Franny was raped, a dastardliness avenged by a big black football-scholarship student named Junior Jones—a sensitive big galoomph who predictably resembles the feminist footballer in Garp.) But though the kids have fun spying (via intercom) on the doings of the few guests in the rooms, the hotel is naturally a flop; and across a diaphanous bridge of narrative Irving marches the family next to Vienna, where the Berrys will help out old Freud the bear-trainer with his hotel. This second Hotel New Hampshire, on the Krugerstrasse, is no more successful. It does have, however, ""characters"" aplenty inside: whores, an ugly girl who wears a bear suit, radicals who attempt to blow up the State Opera. And there's yet a third Hotel N.H. in the future: it will function as a Maine rapecrisis center. True, all these hotels add up to a flabby metaphor—a sort of comic imitation of Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools. But what's most distressing here is Irving's sleepy narrative procedure: he sets up one or two big incidents hundreds of pages in advance, then desultorily plays with the set-ups until the blow-ups themselves come as tepid anti-climaxes. And, to fill the big chaotic spaces in between, Irving pads like crazy, picking out a few coy sermonettes here and there: ""But this is what we do: we dream on, and our dreams escape us almost as vividly as we can imagine them. That's what happens, like it or not. And because that's what happens, this is what we need: we need a good, smart bear. Some people's minds are good enough so that they can live all by themselves—their minds can be their good, smart bears."" Rape, families, the fate of European Jews—nothing, for Irving, is so big that it can't be chopped down to winsome size to fit in a blender-novel like this. Garp got away with it—the comedy was more centrifugal, scarier—and much of that bestseller's readership will no doubt want to sample this retread. But many of them will be sorely disappointed . . . because nothing lives at the Hotel New Hampshire but cuteness. And this lazy, toothless novel is mostly just a bore.?

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1981

ISBN: 034541795X

Page Count: 434

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1981

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.


In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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