Looks beneath a famous stunt’s sensationalism to discover its roots in tragedy and need.

'TIL NIAGARA FALLS

Based on historical events, this novel tells the story of Annie Edson Taylor, who, in 1901, became the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Schoolteacher Annie Edson Taylor, a widow, is traveling back East when robbers board her train and steal her life’s savings. Desperate, Annie listens when carnies in her boardinghouse suggest she perform “a stunt no one has ever survived” and make money telling her story, perhaps at the upcoming Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The location suggests Niagara Falls, so Annie uses her mathematical and engineering know-how to calculate the best odds for going over. She commissions a barrel with the right characteristics, gets a talent agent to represent her, and dyes her graying hair daredevil red. But it’s not that simple, as Annie discovers when she gets to Niagara and becomes a pawn of shady businessmen hoping to cash in on her stunt, offering “protection” in return. Annie makes a deal with Mr. Stilwell, an experienced riverman, who shows her how to avoid the whirlpool and takes her on a tour. They share an attraction to each other and the falls. But after her famous stunt, Annie must leave Niagara to make a living. Will he follow when the falls “are his oxygen and without them he will smother”? In her debut novel, playwright Morin ably portrays the cruelty that’s allied with hucksterism, from unfortunate animals sent over the falls to onlookers’ hopes of observing tragedy. Annie’s careful preparations for her stunt—designing the barrel, scouting the location—make engrossing reading. Several first-person, present-tense points of view, including those of a tough bodyguard and a ghost, contribute to the story’s immediacy and drama, but the voices are very similar and sometimes implausibly lyrical. “The deaths of the sad and the foolish keep the local tramps in hard liquor and old flowers,” muses Stilwell, so rough around the edges that he lives in a cave.

Looks beneath a famous stunt’s sensationalism to discover its roots in tragedy and need.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-948133-01-2

Page Count: 285

Publisher: Po84 Productions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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