Bad stuff from start to finish. The author of Short People can do better than this.


A Minneapolis mom unstrung by her rebellious 15-year-old’s flight from home imagines in detail her daughter’s experiences in a drug-inflected nowheresville populated by adolescent dropouts.

That’s the premise of this labored first novel from the author of the well-received debut story collection Short People (2003). If you buy it, you’ll probably be moved by the plight of aforementioned mom Julia, who’s chronically depressed, in and out of hospitals and drug therapy, at tearful odds with her primly dictatorial husband Robert, still mourning the suspicious death of her brilliant and beautiful older sister Sarah when both girls were teenagers. Julia’s renegade daughter Cheryl is harder to care about, because she talks like a bit player whose scenes were cut from Rebel Without a Cause or The Blackboard Jungle, while hanging with politically (and otherwise) naïve “revolutionaries,” sampling every controlled substance offered her and juggling sexual partners among the Lost Children who congregate in a festering “Dinkytown” beyond suburbia, and at the eponymous “café,” a grungy coffee shop. Flashbacks to both Cheryl’s combative time at home and Julia’s self-destructive past scarcely relieve tedium bred by the novel’s present actions, typified by Cheryl’s moonstruck reaction to new “boyfriend” Trent (“This…guy was a dick, but he was reckless and charismatic”) and more tender moments shared—as if she were Natalie Wood consoling morose Sal Mineo—with younger teen Jarod, notable primarily for calling his adopted stray puppy “Dog” and his clueless, unbalanced mother “ho-bag.” One understands that Furst intends all this to be taken seriously, but the novel is such an egregious mishmash of Kerouacian sentimentality and exhibitionist nihilism that it’s all but impossible to believe a moment of it.

Bad stuff from start to finish. The author of Short People can do better than this.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-375-41432-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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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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