The slightly sordid melodrama and para-psychological philosophizing lean uncomfortably against a sappy romance.


Howe (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, 2009) sets her second novel among early-20th-century Bostonians fascinated by the power of both spiritualism and the new science of psychology.

Twenty-seven-year-old spinster Sibyl Allston lives a quiet life with her father Lan, a successful businessman who talks little about his youth as a sailor in the Far East. In 1915 both are still mourning the deaths of Sibyl’s mother, Helen, and younger sister Eulah, who drowned on the Titanic three years before. Except for her regular visits to the medium, Mrs. Dee, in hopes of making contact with her mother and sister, Sibyl is a retiring, conventional young woman. Then her younger brother Harlan is thrown out of Harvard, ends up in the hospital after a fight he will not discuss, and moves back into the family home along with a young woman named Dovie, whose background remains as murky as her relationship to Harlan. Dovie introduces Sibyl to a potentially dangerous habit in Boston’s Chinatown, but at the same time Sibyl’s former beau re-enters her life. Benton is now a psychology professor at Harvard who tries to help Sibyl by exposing Mrs. Dee as a fraud. But as the country drifts toward World War I, Sibyl begins to realize she may possess an unexpected gift as a seer, one that she unknowingly inherited from her father along with a taste for opium. Is knowing the future a gift or a curse, or does it depend on the angle through which it is viewed? Ultimately Sibyl learns that even within a world ruled by fate, choices can be made.

The slightly sordid melodrama and para-psychological philosophizing lean uncomfortably against a sappy romance. 

Pub Date: April 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4013-4091-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Voice/Hyperion

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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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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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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