Even Vonnegut's weaker myth/cartoon parables of 20th-century American life—Slapstick, Jailbird—have had a certain gravity and a strange shapeliness in their whimsical digressions, their near-childish interplay between silly plots and Big Themes- Here, however, though the Message circles around such weighty matters as Art and Disarmament, there's no majesty in the doodling, no sense of a pattern worth following to the end. Vonnegut's little-man protagonist this time is narrator Rudy Waltz, born in 1932 to millionaire Otto of Midland City, Ohio—a no-talent pharmaceuticals heir who fancies himself an artist (he studied in Vienna with beloved classmate Adolf Hitler), briefly promulgates Nazism in Ohio, and collects guns with passion. So Rudy grows up with a love and knowledge of firearms—till the day in 1944 when, at age twelve, he takes his beloved Springfield ("I liked it so much, and it liked me so much, since I had fired it so well that morning") up to the roof, shoots a bullet into the sky . . . and manages to kill a pregnant woman. Result? The family fortune is lost, father Otto goes to prison, the dead woman's husband is forgiving but writes an eloquent editorial. ("I give you a holy word: DISARM.") And the disarmament theme pops up, in nuclear form, elsewhere too: Rudy's mother will die from radiation poisoning, thanks to a mantelpiece made of radioactive cement from Oak Ridge; the whole town of Midland City will be depopulated by the "accidental" explosion of a neutron bomb in transit. ("My own guess is that the American government had to find out for certain whether the neutron bomb was as harmless as it was supposed to be. So it set one off in a small city which nobody cared about. . . .") But equal space is given to: asexual pharmacist Rudy's 1960 attempt at playwrighting in Greenwich Village; the doomed teenage love of his brother Felix (future NBC exec) for a wrong-side-of-the-tracks girl who later commits "suicide by Drano"; the evidence that Sir Galahad was Jewish; etc. And though Vonnegut's closing statement here—"We are still in the Dark Ages"—presumably can embrace all those fragments of story, character, and preachment, this is a sluggish potpourri of elbow-in-the-rib ironies . . . and perhaps Vonnegut's weakest fiction ever.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 1982

ISBN: 0385334176

Page Count: 253

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982

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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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