A work of old age that takes its time, gently drawing us into its knowing orbit. We inhabit this story as we do the later...

THE WIDOWS OF EASTWICK

Once again summoning characters from his previous books, Updike catches up with the fetching trio of amateur sorceresses introduced in The Witches of Eastwick (1984).

Though they share the state of widowhood, geographical distance and the whims of fortune have long since separated the women. There’s Junoesque Alexandra (“Lexa,” the eldest, having reached 70-something), surviving in Taos, N.M., on her late husband’s modest estate; tightly wound Jane, who married money and now has oodles of it; and resourceful Sukie, who has channeled her pert sexuality into a string of bestselling romance novels. Deflecting mortality’s momentum by compulsive traveling (Canada, China, Egypt—each “done” memorably, thanks to Updike’s unerring grasp of revelatory indigenous detail), the reunited trio undertake a summer in Rhode Island, where their “coven” was formed, and dangerous mischief was performed. Old acquaintances, victims and enemies greet and threaten them, and Lexa’s nagging fears of bodily breakdown and looming death create an inhibiting atmosphere of entrapment. Their former collaborator in sexual malfeasance, Darryl Van Horne (memorably enacted on film by a leering Jack Nicholson), has left potent traces of his influence. This is a most curious novel. Updike haters will quickly point out its lax pacing, encyclopedic sufficiency of laboriously assimilated information and tedious fixation on lubricious sexual detail. Admirers will note its seamless blending of dexterously plotted narrative with penetrating characterizations that evoke with nearly Tolstoyan poignancy the weary, resigned clairvoyance of old age (e.g., Lexa’s intuition that “the cells of my body are getting impatient with me. They’re bored with housing my spirit”).

A work of old age that takes its time, gently drawing us into its knowing orbit. We inhabit this story as we do the later stages of our own lives. Some will not like the book, but it is a vital part of the Updike experience.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-307-26960-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

This new Baldwin novel is told by a 19-year-old black girl named Tish in a New York City ghetto about how she fell in love with a young black man, Fonny. He got framed on a rape charge and she got pregnant before they could marry and move into their loft; but Tish and her family Finance a trip to Puerto Rico to track down the rape victim and rescue Fonny, a sculptor with slanted eyes and treasured independence. The book is anomalous for the 1970's with its Raisin in the Sun wholesomeness. It is sometimes saccharine, but it possesses a genuinely sweet and free spirit too. Along with the reflex sprinkles of hate-whitey, there are powerful showdowns between the two black families, and a Frieze of people who — unlike Fonny's father — gave up and "congregated on the garbage heaps of their lives." The style wobbles as Tish mixes street talk with lyricism and polemic and a bogus kind of Young Adult hesitancy. Baldwin slips past the conflict between fighting the garbage heap and settling into a long-gone private chianti-chisel-and-garret idyll, as do Fonny and Tish and the baby. But Baldwin makes the affirmation of the humanity of black people which is all too missing in various kinds of Superfly and sub-fly novels.

Pub Date: May 24, 1974

ISBN: 0307275930

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974

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