COMPANION PIECES

Two novellas from Strong (Secret Words, 1992, etc.)—one about family secrets, the other about a man who lives alone across an alleyway from another man with a similar name: gentle, warmhearted fictions, the former is a bit cluttered and repetitious, while the latter plays to Strong's best suit—his ability to evoke the pleasures of loneliness. In ``Doing and Undoing,'' two brothers, Daniel and Sim Poore, take a five-day trip back to their childhood home—their grandmother's large house in Illinois farmland that has since become a monastery. Strong pairs off chapters—Sim's dreams, Dan's dreams, Sim's thoughts, Dan's thoughts, conversations between various family members—to tell his story. It can be magical at times, especially when sometimes-painful memories are juxtaposed with Dan's childhood made-up country of Tannu Tuva; but it can also be self-indulgent, particularly when Strong lapses into a modified stream-of-consciousness that tends to clutter up rather than clarify the family saga. While we're brought discursively and intimately into the family circle, the narrative finally gets tedious, especially since it inevitably curls back upon itself to try to dramatize the necessity of traveling back and forth in time. ``Game of Spirit,'' however, takes us all the way back to Strong's early style in Tike and Five Stories (1969): it's about Lou, who lives across the alley from Lew, and who meets an engaging assortment of neighbors since he lives alone (``It is warm now up to his belly button. Black floorboards, dark green rug, the book piles...''), checking out ten books a day, all the people once in his life ``long gone from here'' until, finally, ``He forgets if he is Lou or Lew.'' A charming, moving update on spacey 60's types, then, is delivered with an incisive work-a-day style, whereas ``Doing and Undoing'' is both more ambitious and less successful.

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-944072-28-3

Page Count: 232

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1993

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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