More of a detour than a natural progression for the author, whose fans will nevertheless find this as engaging as it is...

SLEEP DONATION

A NOVELLA

One of America’s finest fiction writers returns with an audaciously allegorical novella about sleep deprivation in an age of sensory overload.

As a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the author of a critically acclaimed novel (Vampires in the Lemon Grove, 2013, etc.) and two story collections, Russell seems to be having some fun here, using the novella form and e-book format to put creative ingenuity to Orwellian use. The year is sometime in the near future, when the omnipresence of communication and connecting devices, the 24-hour news cycle and other sources of overstimulation have turned insomnia into an epidemic, even a plague. Sleep donors (like blood or plasma donors) can be a godsend for those suffering, particularly if those donors sleep undisturbed, without nightmares, like a baby. In this novella, Baby A is the ultimate donor, the silver bullet, the one whose sleep has universal benefits. (Other donors need to be more closely matched, as with blood types.) Our narrator, Trish, has recruited Baby A through the child’s parents and effectively sells the donor program to them by invoking the death of her own sister due to sleep deprivation. But the demands on Baby A eventually frustrate her father—a more reluctant participant than his wife—and he feels more concerned with what Baby A might suffer than with the benefits for society at large. At the other extreme from Baby A is Donor Y, whose nightmare-infected donation (an act of terrorism? an accident?) ultimately causes an international crisis, with many preferring the suicide of sleeplessness to a sleep that returns them to this nightmare. As the plot progresses, Trish feels that both she and Baby A have perhaps been equally exploited. Those who appreciate Russell’s literary alchemy might find this a little too close to science fiction, but it serves as a parable on a number of levels for a world that is recognizably our own.

More of a detour than a natural progression for the author, whose fans will nevertheless find this as engaging as it is provocative.

Pub Date: March 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-937894-28-3

Page Count: 101

Publisher: Atavist Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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