More illumination than revelation.

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THE ILLUMINATION

A soft-hearted spiritual parable that aims for beguiling but succumbs to cloying.

The author’s first novel since The Brief History of the Dead (2006) is another vaguely futuristic fable with meditations on mortality, which explore the beauty and redemption in suffering. The title refers to an inexplicable phenomenon that might have lasted for decades or forever. One day, peoples’ injuries start glowing or even blazing with light. And not only their physical injuries but their emotional wounds as well. And not just humans but even inanimate objects. (“Jars of peanut butter could be hurt just like people.”) A surgeon in the operating room shouts, “Sunglasses! I need some sunglasses here!” However imaginative the reader finds that vision, the plot pivots on an oft-used convention: the object that passes from one stranger to the next and transforms their lives. The object in this case is a book of one-sentence love notes from a husband to his wife, which starts changing hands in the hospital, after she dies from an auto accident that leaves him physically and emotionally debilitated. First claimed by a divorced woman who had shared a hospital room with the wife, and who thought the husband had also died, it then passes back to him, as he attempts to return to some semblance of normal life through his job as a newspaper photographer. Plainly the  “The Illumination,” as the phenomenon has quickly been dubbed, is a photographic boon, with the photographer wrestling with his conscience over whether he’s exploiting those who mutilate themselves just to see the light or simply capturing those images (until he himself succumbs to the temptation of self-inflicted wounds). Others who briefly obtain possession of the book range from “a crazy little retard”—a silent boy, likely autistic—to a female author of fables and parables (like this one?) whose mouth ulcer makes the readings she gives a painful experience.

More illumination than revelation.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-42531-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2010

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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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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