DIFFICULTIES WITH GIRLS

After winning the Booker Prixe for his last novel, an inspired satire on aging adulterers (The Old Devils), Amis here aims his barbed wit at an easy target—the cultural excesses of the Sixties. It's not just radical chic and open marriage that Amis mocks in this rather tired fiction. He's still griping about long hair and mod fashion! In any case, the more immediate dilemma—the problem set out in the title—affects Patrick Standish, a former Latin teacher, now working for the trendy publishing firm of Hammond and Sutcliffe, whose list of authors provides Patrick with much to grump about. The poets are insufferable bores, the novelists mostly illiterate boobs. But Patrick is himself something of a fool. Despite being married to a woman of great beauty and solid character, he still chases skirts with reckless abandon. His loyal wife, Jenny, childless after seven years of marriage, suffers her husband's satyriasis with a stiff upper lip, even when she should send him packing. Although their marital warfare takes up much of this rambling narrative, there are others here with "girl" problems. There's Tim Valentine, a mysterious new neighbor who has been convinced by his pompous shrink that his premature ejaculations indicate deep-rooted homosexuality, a theory he wants to explore in his new digs. There's Simon Giles, Patrick's boss, who hopes to control his wife's sexual wanderlust by setting her up with Patrick. There's Patrick's other neighbor, Eric, a demure homosexual who puts up with his shrill and feminine love, a former actor with a taste for sordid melodrama—he's referred to as "she" throughout in order to stress the commonality of their discord. This subplot about the "incredibly nasty and incredibly dangerous" world of homosexuality is intended, amazingly enough, as an argument against the decriminalization of homosexual acts—legislation that passed back in the time during which the novel is set. Patrick's chastening, meanwhile, results from a predictable plot device—Jenny finally manages to get pregnant. With great comedic skill, Amis highlights the disparity between what characters say and what they think. But here bis talents are wasted on a dull sex farce that resolves itself with much cheap moralizing.

Pub Date: April 5, 1989

ISBN: 0517063190

Page Count: -

Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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