Beautifully done. Bender has a remarkable gift for showing how the security of family interrelationship warms, chafes,...


The audience awaiting Oprah's picks will want to know about this highly touted first novel about three generations of women in a painfully bonded southern California family.

The story’s central actions occur on a single day, when middle-aged Marlene (`Lena`), a retarded adult who has matter-of-factly set a fire in her room in a residential home,` escapes` to a nearby beach for a day's outing with her 12-year-old niece Shelley. It's left (as it has so often been) to Lena's widowed mother, Ella Rose, to clean up the mess and make the apologies—and to take refuge in extended memories of her own girlhood (as part of a Russian-American Boston-area family), marriage, and embattled motherhood, attempting to raise, and keep peace between, the unpredictable Lena and Lena's younger sister (Shelley's mother) Vivien. These comprise a heartbreaking story of loneliness assuaged by Ella's happy marriage (to Lou, a gentle shoe-store owner who genuinely adores her), then replaced by a deeper sorrow as Ella accepts the burdens of managing Lena's fragile emotional life, even steering her through marriage (to the likewise retarded Bob), then being there—forever, if necessary, and bereft of her own comforts, as caring for Lena pulls Ella ever further away from the others she loves. With perfect pacing and tact, Bender shows us how the `games` Lena plays with the fascinated Shelley (a Carson McCullers–derived waif, much too thinly drawn) ironically recapitulate the disillusionments both Lena and Ella have suffered, in their efforts to be `like normal people.` The characterization of Lena is superb: she has more than enough intelligence to understand how `different` she is, be grateful and grieve for having loved Bob and then lost him, and realize how much of `normal` life will remain always beyond her reach.

Beautifully done. Bender has a remarkable gift for showing how the security of family interrelationship warms, chafes, imprisons, and ultimately liberates.

Pub Date: April 14, 2000

ISBN: 0-395-94515-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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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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