A mixed bag of four short pieces featuring two to savor and two to skim.

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INSIDE ORWELL AND OTHER STORIES

Another selection of stories from Raffetto (The Girl from Summer and Other Stories, 2013).

This blend of fact, fiction and commentary consists of four short pieces: “Three A.M.,” “Inside Orwell,” “The Selection of ’92” and “The Georges.” The first tackles the troubled but fascinating union of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, sparked by the narrator’s relationship with a girl who reminded him of Zelda. The narrator contrasts Scott Fitzgerald with George Orwell, who “was not seduced by bright shiny things.” He tells of how the Fitzgeralds led a life of parties, arguments and excesses, fueled by alcohol and money woes; Zelda was drawn to writing and ballet, but mental illness prevailed, and she met a cruel end at a sanatorium in Asheville, North Carolina. The second piece concerns Orwell, a shrewd political observer, with a brief aside on the narrator’s background, and a book he published to positive reviews that failed to generate substantial sales. Raffeto writes of Orwell’s life-altering experiences in the Spanish Civil War and how he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four on his deathbed. The first two pieces are cohesive, focused and absorbing. The book falters in the third, set in the days preceding the 1992 presidential election, with Democrat Alex and Republican Brad as competing copier salesmen. Alex’s relationship with an ex-girlfriend is intriguing, but his squabbles with Brad don’t pack the punch of the Fitzgerald or Orwell stories. The piece seems designed to favor one candidate and party over the other. The final piece is the weakest: an essay concerning Orwell and George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin. It links Zimmerman’s attitudes with those of President George W. Bush (“liar and lunatic”) and compares Orwellian Newspeak to Fox News’ justifications of Zimmerman’s actions. It includes the author’s pointed interjections about the mishandling of the case; for example, he calls the killing of Trayvon Martin “another lynching.” The essay brims with righteous indignation and hindsight, but this diminishes its overall impact.

A mixed bag of four short pieces featuring two to savor and two to skim.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692256404

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Noovella.com

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2014

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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