It’s better than Blonde (2000). But that’s a little like saying that Plato’s Timaeus goes down easier than the Parmenides.

MIDDLE AGE

A ROMANCE

Oates’s fat new opus (her 29th full-length novel, if anyone is still counting) traces the effects of an inscrutable sculptor’s benign personality and aura on a townful of admirers who find their lives permanently altered by the memory of him.

Adam Berendt, the mystery man of the prosperous upstate New York village of Salthill-on-Hudson, suffers fatal cardiac arrest while attempting to save a drowning child. The several (mostly married) women who had adored his playful, provocative intellect and perversely attractive physical ugliness (including one blind eye) react variously to the loss of their social circle’s very own Socrates (for Oates makes it explicit: even giving Adam a faithful dog named Apollodoros, after the real Socrates’s dutiful young companion). Neurasthenic divorcée Abigail Des Pres works through a borderline-incestuous fixation on her surly teenaged son. Thirtyish bookstore owner Marina Troy becomes the surprised beneficiary of Adam’s whimsical largesse. Adam’s attorney Roger Cavanagh battles his embittered ex-wife and accusatory adolescent daughter, while enduring sexual fixations on both the unresponsive Marina (who soon moves away) and a feisty feminist paralegal. Timid Camille Hoffmann soothes her loneliness by “mothering” a brood of abandoned canines (including, of course, “Apollo”), and Rubens-like beauty Augusta Cutler (the Shelley Winters part) travels the country deciphering the mystery of Adam’s past. As in Oates’s Broke Heart Blues (1999), the oracle proves something less than his acolytes had imagined. Still, all ends more or less affirmatively (this being a “romance”); there’s even a climactic reconciliation in a fabricated Garden of Eden. Middle Age has its moments, but it’s basically redundant and shapeless (Oates is still introducing new material barely ten pages prior to its end), and very heavily indebted to Plato’s numerous portrayals of Socrates (caves and shadows loom up frequently), several Iris Murdoch novels (Revered Charismatic Figure Shapes Lives of Those Who Loved Him), and especially John Updike’s Couples (Salthill=Tarbox?; and the concluding chapters contain multiple echoes of Couples’s denouement).

It’s better than Blonde (2000). But that’s a little like saying that Plato’s Timaeus goes down easier than the Parmenides.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-620946-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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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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