“You can’t write about sex,” maintains the narrative, an assertion the novel corroborates.

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THE PREGNANT WIDOW

This novel about the sexual revolution is ultimately something of a tease, with far more talking and reading, and talking about reading, than consummation.

Though Amis (House of Meetings, 2007, etc.) has long been acknowledged as the foremost disciple of Saul Bellow in contemporary British literature, the opening chapters of his latest read more like lubricious Philip Roth. The year is 1970, the protagonist is 20-year-old Keith Nearing and the setting is a castle in the Italian mountains, where the normal rules—if there are still any normal rules—concerning sexual propriety can be suspended. The protagonist is the same generation, height and nationality as the author, who at one point assures the reader that “the summer in Italy wasn’t art, it was only life. No one made anything up. All this really happened.” What happened? Not much, though the summer apparently had lasting repercussions for the protagonist, with the narrative offering a series of present-day interludes that invoke his multiple marriages and daughters. In 1970, among those with whom Keith shares the Italian castle are three women. The one who reduces him to drooling obsession is Scheherazade, a male fantasy (satiric? ironic?) of a voluptuary who is “oozing out all over,” has yet to realize her power over men and is suffering from sexual frustration. As the literary-minded Keith muses, “According to an English novel he had read, men understood why they liked women’s breasts—but they didn’t understand why they liked them so much.” Then there’s Gloria Beautyman, whose posterior is as riveting as Scheherazade’s bust, and who appears even more available. Hardly standing a chance amid those competing attractions is Lily (one of the many flower-named females in the novel), Keith’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, with whom sex is perfunctory. Amid this “erotically decisive summer,” the reader’s frustration becomes almost as great as Keith’s, as extended discourses on literature, life and religion lead to little resolution, literary or otherwise.

“You can’t write about sex,” maintains the narrative, an assertion the novel corroborates.

Pub Date: May 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4452-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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