McLaughlin delivers stirring imagery, a deeply moving look at American poverty and, most impressively of all, a realistic,...



In Oakland, a young man struggles to rise out of poverty and take care of his girlfriend and infant son, but his past seems to prevent him from moving forward.

Split into a prologue and three distinct parts, this book belongs to Jake Robertson; his voice is strong as he tells his story, although the language of the book—full of creative compound phrases, striking imagery and lyrical passages—can be confusing or repetitive, especially during action scenes. The prologue introduces Jake as a child, traveling from Chicago to Oakland with his family. Here readers meet his dad and witness firsthand the troubled relationship that is at the heart of the story. Part One jumps into the current day, where Jake struggles to provide for his girlfriend, Noel, and their potentially asthmatic son, William, despite trouble Jake is having with his caseworker and the man who runs the labor hall on which he relies for work. While this section feels a little drawn out, the book hits its stride in Part Two, which provides insight into the events in Jake’s life that defined him and brought him to where he is now. Jake comes to life as a character here—a flawed, troubled man with good intentions. McLaughlin deftly builds his tale so that, once Part Three begins, readers have a deep understanding of Jake, as well as the central conflict of the tale. Jake’s father has been released from prison and is looking for his son so that he can include Jake in a scheme that would solve all his problems. However, Jake’s involvement in this plan will force him into a confrontation with his father and bring to light secrets that have been buried for a long time—secrets that have shaped Jake’s identity. The strength of Jake’s character, and the skill with which McLaughlin creates him, makes this a compulsively readable book. By the time Jake is forced to make a decision that will change his life, readers know enough about him and about his past to know what is at stake—and the resolution doesn’t disappoint.

McLaughlin delivers stirring imagery, a deeply moving look at American poverty and, most impressively of all, a realistic, relatable character in Jake Robertson.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2007

ISBN: 978-1572336452

Page Count: 292

Publisher: University of Tennessee

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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