OBSCENE BODIES

An assured debut that blends satire of the Manhattan art world with a minor-key morality tale of an art historian seduced by Soho. Stuart Finley, an assistant curator at the Metropolitan Museum at the tender age of 28, is smug in his role as protÇgÇ of an esteemed Old Masters expert. When he meets Claire, an assistant from Sotheby's whom he's seen and admired around town, he invites her for a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum; she brings her Rollerblades and spins around the Temple of Dendur. But the blossoming flirtation is marred by one question: What's her relationship to the much-hyped painter Miles Levy? Stuart dines with the painter, and prissily defends the concept of connoisseurship while worrying about Miles's arm around his new lover's waist. It turns out that Claire lives with the artist, but she promises that they're no longer involved. Soon Stuart is hanging with the gang at Miles's loft and watching David Lieberthal, Miles's dealer, dazzle Silicon Valley poseurs into paying six figures for Miles's insipid work. One night during a post-coital interlude in Claire's room, Stuart hears shouting and is the accidental witness to a confrontation between Miles and his assistant that ends with the assistant's death. Stuart gets sucked up in the damage control. Then Stuart's mentor dies and is posthumously implicated in WW II art thefts. It's not long before Stuart takes Miles's advice to ``quit resisting'' and trades in the clubby confines of the Met for the clothes allowance that comes with a job at David Lieberthal's gallery. What elevates these busy goings-on above the realm of soap-opera is Stuart's appealing complexity: He retains some of his tortured self-consciousness even as he descends down the slippery slope into terminal fabulousness. Gentle but on-target satire, then, buttressed by Benabib's copious and clearheaded knowledge of the world he portrays.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-06-017437-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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Soft-focus story moves right along with few surprises. This time around, Hannah avoids the soap-opera complications of her...

DISTANT SHORES

Another middle-aged mom in a muddle.

After years of false starts and big hopes, Elizabeth’s ruggedly handsome husband Jack, a former football star, just landed a spot as a sportscaster on national news. He still loves her, even though much younger women are giving him come-hither looks. Heck, he doesn’t want to betray the love of his life after she helped him kick drugs and stuck by him even when he was a struggling has-been. And won’t it seem hypocritical if he fools around with his sexy assistant while he does in-depth reporting on a rape case involving a famous basketball center? Well, he fools around anyway. Elizabeth, nicknamed Birdie, knows nothing of this, but she withdraws from Jack when her hard-drinking, salt-of-the-earth father has a stroke and dies. Now no one will call her “sugar beet” ever again. Time to return home to Tennessee and contend with Anita, the sort-of-evil stepmother so trashy she wears pink puffy slippers all day long. Naturally, it turns out that Anita actually has a heart of gold and knows a few things about Birdie’s dead mother that were hushed up for years. Mom was an artist, just like Birdie, and an old scandal comes to light as Anita unrolls a vibrant canvas that portrays her secret lover. Perhaps, Birdie muses, her mother died of heartbreak, never having followed her true love or developed her talent. Has she, too, compromised everything she holds dear? Hoping to find out, Birdie joins a support group that promises to reconnect confused women with their passion. She and Jack separate, prompting a how-dare-you fit from their grown daughters. Will Birdie fly her empty nest? Will she go back to college for a degree in art? Will her brooding watercolors ever sell?

Soft-focus story moves right along with few surprises. This time around, Hannah avoids the soap-opera complications of her previous tales (Summer Island, 2001, etc.).

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-345-45071-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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