ALL JOE KNIGHT

A dark and busy rise-and-fall tale, the book doesn’t gel quite as well its young hoopsters.

With his marriage over and his business affairs gone murky, the narrator of this uneven debut has only the memory of his glory days on the basketball court as a youth.

In a story that bounces around like an errant foul shot, Joe Knight delivers alternating sections about life in the 1970s as a teen formed by TV, basketball, and music and as an adult adrift. There are recurring interludes on William Penn, the early history of Philadelphia, where the story is set, and brick-making as well as repeated references to Walt Whitman and the Band. “I might be scattered, but that’s okay,” Joe says early on. For a time he focuses on basketball, and fans of the sport will enjoy what Morris (White Man’s Problems, 2014) calls “the perfect harmonic convergence” of good players melding into a great high school team. The sections on Joe’s rise after college from negligible jobs to founding an ad firm that quickly gets hot and leads to an eight-figure buyout hum along at a snappy pace. All is not blue sky, though. As a boy, Joe witnessed something in a church that he holds secret for years. The wealthy adult sours on marriage, and divorce finds him compulsively bedding strippers (the sex scenes aren’t subtle). A self-loathing loner, Joe seems to have left any joy in life on the hardwood courts of high school. When a former teammate tips him to a criminal probe into the buyout, the trouble threatens to entangle the friends of his youth (and the payoff may even help explain those recurring references). The tension surrounding the investigation and legal matters is well-handled, a credit perhaps to the author’s day job as an entertainment lawyer.

A dark and busy rise-and-fall tale, the book doesn’t gel quite as well its young hoopsters.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2578-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2017

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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