After last year’s triumph The Falls, Oates gives us this? Get this woman an editor.


Oates’s latest, which examines the aftershocks of a suburban murder, is an uneasy cross between her literary fiction and her pseudonymous “Rosamond Smith” mystery thrillers.

It begins on Mother’s Day, when narrator Nikki Eaton attends a party for her widowed mother, Gwen, and, as usual, blends in awkwardly, offending the sensibilities of her married older sister Clare, as well as her mother’s assorted friends (who are, effectively, beneficiaries of Gwen’s unquenchable good will). Things spin quickly out of control when Gwen is robbed and murdered by wretched “meth-head” ex-convict Ward Lynch, and the quiet neighborhood (in upstate Mt. Ephraim, NY) where she had lived for 30 years tries to cope with the ensuing emotional fallout. Sticking strictly to Nikki’s viewpoint, Oates portrays her narrator as a free-spirited (possibly just borderline-trashy?) babe who works as a feature-writer for a regional weekly newspaper, sustains a ragged affair with married developer and radio deejay Wally Szalla (who may or may not divorce his wife), and grieves awkwardly for her mother, while waiting to learn whether Lynch will plead guilty or stand trial, and deflecting the hesitant attentions of a police detective whose interest in her seems less than professional. The novel consists of bulky setpieces in which Nikki discusses her Gwen with the cartoonishly intemperate Clare, people who remember Gwen’s vibrant youth and probably loveless marriage to a cold-fish husband, and, finally, the former boyfriend who abandoned Gwen to enter the priesthood. Add in flashbacks to Nikki’s childhood and early adulthood, and the novel becomes irrationally bloated; on virtually every page, we sense Oates’s desperation to extend this banal premise, overwriting, incessantly over-detailing. The only halfway credible character is Gwen’s surly tomcat Smoky—probably because we aren’t made privy to his thoughts.

After last year’s triumph The Falls, Oates gives us this? Get this woman an editor.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-081621-X

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2005

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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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