The stuff of farce, but Baggott’s deft movement of her material is often lyrical and poignant rather that just kooky—and...

GIRL TALK

A literary sitcom set in New England and New York, covering 15 years in a young woman’s life.

The year she turns 30, Lissy Jablonski, the narrator, is pregnant with a married man’s child; a long-ago sweetheart, Church Fiske, arrives at her New York City apartment; and her father, a gynecologist, dies. These three events trigger Lissy’s reexamination of her past, especially “the summer that never happened,” her 15th year when Lissy’s father ran off to Arizona with a redhead; Lissy’s mother informed her that her father was not her real father; and Lissy met Church Fiske. That was the summer of “girl talk”: the restless nights when Lissy’s mother filled her in on the truth of her own and Lissy’s past. Lissy’s account braids together exploration of that past with confrontations in the present as she attempts to answer a few important questions: How did she get where she is, and what does she do now? That teenaged year was highlighted by a road trip from New Hampshire, where she grew up, to Cape Cod, where she met the aristocratic but effete Fiske family, to Bayonne, New Jersey, where her mother hailed from and where Lissy’s biological grandfather Dino, a midlevel mafioso, still lives. Now, in her 30th year, Lissy faces single motherhood and the disappointment, if not humiliation, of Church’s falling for and marrying the roommate Lissy only recently dispossessed, a Korean stripper named Kitty Hawk. The 15 years between past and present are animated by various experiences with men who represent elements of one father or the other, either the gynecologist or the supermale hunk.

The stuff of farce, but Baggott’s deft movement of her material is often lyrical and poignant rather that just kooky—and Lissy’s consciousness is clearly enough realized so that the end of her tale doesn’t fail to move.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2001

ISBN: 0-7434-0082-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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