GOOD AS GOLD

Critics rightly complained that Bob Slocum, the "hero" of Heller's last novel, Something Happened, was really Jewish beneath his WASP trappings. Well, now Heller atones for his ethnic coverup—with a vengeance. Bruce Gold is, there is no mistaking, a Jew. A college professor and bored writer of articles and books of "fiery caution and crusading inertia," he comes to the attention of the White House, through an old school chum on the staff there. The Washington idiots love Bruce's turns of phrase ("Nothing succeeds as planned," "boggle the mind"); the more imbecilic the prose, the more they adore it, and they offer him a position anywhere on the scale from "close Presidential source" to Secretary of State. (Bruce would love that, if only to crown his obsessive hatred of Henry Kissinger, whom he can't talk about without lapsing into a wicked, galled display of Yiddish.) The White House here plainly stands for archetypal Goyishe kup stupidity, the way the Army stood for confusion and lunacy in Catch-22, with about the same effect: a balloon-y, cartoon-y straw man of manic plenitude. But Heller's real talents come bursting out when he's dealing with Bruce among his own. Bruce's old friends from Coney Island all suddenly appear—successful publishers, doctors, editors of little magazines: "Invite a Jew to the White House—and you make him your slave." A shady garment manufacturer, Spotty Weinrock, and his practical-joke-playing doctor brother, Murshie, are hilarious, Mel-Brooksian portraits. And the book positively sings when Bruce is at table with his family. There's his octogenarian father, whom everyone wants to ship down to a Miami Beach condominium, but who refuses to leave—he couldn't bear to forgo the pleasure of noodging his grown children with 80 years' worth of stored-up contrariness and belittling. And there's older brother Sid, plus five sisters, who've been put on earth (as Bruce sees it) to make him feel like dreck, but in a "nice" way. If this nearly plotless book doesn't add up, all the big pieces provide a great, sloppy, assaulting, impolite comic energy. Heller's loose now, less focused and taking different sorts of risks; here he's flagrantly, Yiddishiy Jewish, taking us deep into familial dread and laughter.

Pub Date: March 1, 1979

ISBN: 0684839741

Page Count: 452

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1979

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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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