Oates’s newest collection (and, to nobody’s surprise, second major work of fiction this year) intriguingly revisits the “gothic” terrain surveyed in such earlier volumes as Night-Side (1977) and Haunted (1994). As is generally the case with Oates, the result is a mixed bag, containing several flimsy (though invariably atmospheric and suggestive) vignettes and anecdotes (“The Sky Blue Ball,” “Intensive”); affecting dramatizations of intense relationships among children and their elders (the nerve-rattling “Death Mother,” and a story entitled the “black rectangle” that symbolizes its narrator’s repression of a traumatic visit to menacing relatives); and breathless portrayals of the enthusiasts-cum-fanatics who have long since constituted a subgenre of Oates’s work (“Death Astride Bicycle,” “Elvis is Dead: Why Are You Alive ?”). A few stories employ overworked supernatural conventions (an Indian relic comes voraciously to life in “The Dream-Catcher”; a child’s grotesque plaything menaces her apprehensive mother in “The Hand-puppet”). And literary influences are sometimes strongly felt, even if ingeniously made new (Poe’s tales in the parable-like title piece; Hortense Calisher’s “The Scream on Fifty-Seventh Street,— to which Oates previously demonstrated indebtedness in “Unprintable”). A choice few belong among the author’s very best: notably the swift tale of a vacationing family’s lost little boy and his likely fate, recounted in a chillingly bland colloquial voice (“Labor Day”); the story of a painter who makes inimitable art out of the disease that plagues him (“The Affliction”); and two superbly imagined and skillfully constructed exercises in psychological horror (“The Crossing” and “Shadows of the Evening”). The paradoxical momentum frequently traced in these stories—of escape from an impoverished or frightened childhood into a stable world of culture and order, though it may be snatched away violently at any time—gives them the further dimension of close relationship to Oates’s more purely realistic fiction: the “night-side,” as it were, of her oeuvre. One of Oates’s more interesting recent books, and impressive further proof of her continuing mastery of the short story.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 1998

ISBN: 0-525-94445-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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