Taylor nails The Scene, but at the expense of the story.


A cult emerges from a punk/hippie sanctuary in this mordant first novel from the author of the story collection Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever (2010).

Like other college towns, Gainesville, Fla., is a haven for alternative lifestyles. David is slow to catch on, but in his junior year, everything changes for this liberal arts major. A relationship ends; he loses interest in his courses; he stays home masturbating before his laptop, then throws it in the tub in self-disgust. Salvation comes when he runs into two Dumpster divers, Thomas and Liz. He knows Thomas from their suburban Miami childhood. They take him back to Fishgut, their dilapidated house with its floating population of punks. There he meets Katy, and his emancipation is complete. He’s dropped out. She’s a generous earth-mother type, as willing to share her body with this newcomer as with her girlfriend Liz. (Taylor writes sex wonderfully well.) She’s also a self-styled Anarchristian, happily blending anarchy and Christianity, unlike those uptight Catholic students at the church reception they attend for a goof (and for the free food). What really fires Katy up is her discovery of a notebook buried in their yard. It belonged to Parker, Fishgut’s mysterious founder. Katy takes its religious and philosophical ramblings as the ultimate truth, the Gospel. David, now her ardent disciple, edits it with her into a pamphlet, perfect for the Millennium (the story is set in 1999). Not everyone is sold; Thomas, an atheist Jew, leaves Fishgut for the Battle of Seattle after maliciously inserting a line of bull into the Gospel. Taylor’s nimble analysis of these schisms recalls T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, but he lacks Boyle’s sense of direction. That might have taken us to Parker, who remains an enigma, while Katy’s further development stalls. Excerpts from the Gospel serve as filler, and momentum drains away among a variety of voices.

Taylor nails The Scene, but at the expense of the story.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-188182-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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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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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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These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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