An ambitious first novel that suffers from the same ennui as do its characters.


An unhappy marriage implodes when demons from the couple's past and the surprise arrival of the wife’s pregnant sister upset the tenuous rhythms of family life.

In their 30s, Katie and Wilson have thousands of dollars of debt and seven degrees between them; they met in Kalamazoo in a Ph.D. program where they were enrolled because both “found it easier to start yet another program than to find a job.” Katie has no ambitions to apply her degree; after graduation, she's isolated inside a small condo with two children from her marriage to Wilson and a son from another relationship. Bored and passing time until her husband finishes his dissertation, "The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath," she has an affair with her neighbor Steven, a wealthy, much-younger community college student with a jealous fiancee. Katie believes her true self was lost as a child when she was repeatedly raped by a man at the edges of her father’s social circle. Scenes of Katie with her monstrous abuser are compelling but heighten the novel’s unevenness. A wickedly funny neurotic and sober alcoholic, Wilson writes the first three words of his dissertation—but despite showing up at his desk every day, nothing more. He falls into new forms of addiction, abandoning school so he can sell cars to feed a heroin habit. The novel’s nearly 400 pages are slow to launch. Katie’s sister, January, doesn't appear until almost a quarter of the way into the saga; her sections have a fresher, more consistent tone. A free spirit who left home with her mother’s blessing at 15, Jan romanticizes the three years she spent as the adoring girlfriend of a self-involved musician who dumped her when he became a rock star. He’s still touring the country while she has lived alone for 20 years in middle-of-nowhere New Mexico in a house paid for by his fame. Although she hasn't been in touch with Katie or Wilson since skipping their wedding, January shows up unannounced in Michigan, determined to learn how to be a mother by installing herself in her sister's world.

An ambitious first novel that suffers from the same ennui as do its characters.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-87580-725-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Switchgrass Books

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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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 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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