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BUTCHER

Vintage Oates: splendidly written, and a useful warning to choose your doctors wisely.

New Jersey history meets Oates at her most gothic.

Exhibit A: a bumbling fellow, Silas Weir, who can’t quite get anything right, a disappointment to his parents for not making it into Harvard even as a legacy, a man horrified at the thought of women’s private parts (“loathsome in design, function, & aesthetics”)—which makes his determination to become “the father of gyno-psychiatry” all the odder. “His head was overlarge upon his stooped & spindly shoulders; his stiff-tufted hair of no discernible hue, neither dark nor fair, needed a more expert trimming; his eyes rather deep-set in their sockets, like a rodent’s eyes, damp & quick-shifting.” He cuts not much of a figure himself, but in Oates’ grim yarn, narrated in the stiff Victorian prose of the era, Weir does plenty of cutting: As the director of the New Jersey State Asylum for Female Lunatics, he has plenty of captive subjects from whom to remove uteruses and repair fistulae, with which he has a particular fascination. One inmate is a young, deaf-mute Irish woman named Brigit Kinealy, who, in a Stockholm syndrome exercise, becomes Weir’s assistant “before she had fully recovered her physical strength,” a recovery made all the less complete because, Weir realizes, he left a sponge sewn up inside her. Brigit, enslaved in all but name, proves to have inner resources of her own, ways of dealing with the “butcher of girls & women” that Weir, ever more obsessed, becomes, as he’s bent on proving the notion (and thereby winning Papa’s approval at last) that in his campaign advocating “the removal of infected female organs” lay the cure for any psychiatric disorder a woman might endure. It all makes for a creepy, circuitous tale—one based on actual history—made all the more sinister by the putatively good intentions of Weir’s son, an abolitionist and advocate for the freedom of everyone but poor Brigit.

Vintage Oates: splendidly written, and a useful warning to choose your doctors wisely.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9780593537770

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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