Alienating to all but the most masochistically pretentious.


Critics’ darling McElroy (The Letter Left to Me, 1988, etc.) uses an onstage slap as the start for his elaborately wrought, glacially paced ninth novel.

Lawyer Bill Daley is in the audience of this “downtown, twelve-dollar-a-seat house” because Becca Lang, the actress who receives the blow, has asked him to forestall her eviction from a loft she rented with the help of the show’s producer. It’s a Wednesday night shortly before Thanksgiving 1996; by the end of the evening, 24-year-old Becca will have come home with 45-year-old Daley after a stroll through Manhattan, during which they talk endlessly and enigmatically about everything from the Civil War to Ruley Duymens, the mysterious part-Dutch entrepreneur who may have been the lover of Daley’s dead wife. Duymens recommended Daley to Becca; he’s hooked up in real estate with the show’s producer; and he’s got shadowy business ties in the East that led Daley’s client Lotta to appeal for his help when a Taiwanese woman she met on a plane was apparently abducted. Such oblique connections are the stock-in-trade of this circuitous narrative, which crawls through present time as Daley remembers over and over again various past events: his engineer brother Wolf’s near-fatal accident in Osaka; Lotta’s phone call demanding that Daley sue the state of Connecticut for earthquake damage to her art collection; the four-and-a-half-million-square-foot fabric roof Ruley constructed in Jedda. Extracting these events from the barely there storyline is more like doing homework than reading a novel. Since the reader feels no emotional connection with the characters, Becca’s coy admission (through a one-woman show she’s creating) that she had sex as a girl with her much-older brother hardly registers. A last-minute revelation—that in 1970 Daley piloted a helicopter from which five Vietnamese, including a teenage girl, fell or were thrown—comes virtually out of the blue as the author strains for a significance his portentous text has never earned.

Alienating to all but the most masochistically pretentious.

Pub Date: April 21, 2003

ISBN: 1-58567-350-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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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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