This gifted author has packed enough material for at least two books into her debut.

KEPT ANIMALS

A toddler’s death and a vast wildfire bracket a coming-of-age story set at a horse ranch in Topanga Canyon in the summer of 1993.

Rory Ramos is 15 the year her alcoholic stepfather, Gus, is responsible for the car accident that kills Charlie Price. Charlie is the 19-month-old son of a movie star and his wife, the only sibling of their beautiful, troubled teenage daughter, Vivian. Rory has enjoyed spying on this family from her bedroom window, which perches above their spread in the canyon, but the night of the accident she was busy getting bitched out by her shrewish barmaid mother. Rory and Gus are both employed at Leaning Rock Ranch, locus of much of the action and a slew of other characters, including wealthy teenage twins June and Wade Fisk. June is out as a lesbian, and her attentions to Rory will help the latter realize she’s in love with Vivian. While Vivian is dating the racist, classist pig Wade, she is also happy to toy with Rory as well as her former AP English teacher. In addition to being an accomplished horsewoman, Rory is a promising photographer—“I can’t teach this” says her photo teacher in admiration—and in fact she will grow up to become a war correspondent, as we learn in a second narrative line set in 2015, narrated by her daughter. If this sounds complicated, it is, and this is not the half of it. Milliken writes well about horses, photography, Southern California, taxidermy, lifestyles of the rich and famous, and more—if only she had chosen a subset of these topics.

This gifted author has packed enough material for at least two books into her debut.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8858-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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