A repetitive central metaphor and a trajectory that’s clear early on, which makes the journey feel short.

COSMIC SURFER

The semifictional memoir of a 42-year-old astronomy professor, following the underlying philosophy of his choices amid an existential crisis.

Peter Langman starts out at a university in Boulder, Colorado, as a tenured professor who challenges his students to find unconventional answers to basic questions of existence. He’s fond of asking them open-ended questions, such as “Why the universe?” Though surrounded by attractive young women, Langman is principled enough not to get involved with students while they’re taking his courses. He has any number of desirable liaisons to choose from, including an open relationship with a woman named Susan Calder who lives in Denver. He enjoys stoned, philosophical conversations and seems to have all the creature comforts in order, a stable path ahead of him. But something dissatisfies him. He sees his colleagues stuck in a rut, not living freely or to their full potential, and debates whether to make a drastic change, to quit and just drift wherever life takes him. That’s where the titular surfing reference comes in: Langman is a body surfer, which he conflates with his interests in astronomy and philosophy. After much debate, he decides to quit and winds up driving around in a van, having somewhat random affairs and communing with nature. He also confronts larger questions when his father dies, visits his faraway family, climbs mountains, talks to strangers, and goes wherever his whims take him. Geographically, Langman covers a lot of ground; intellectually and emotionally, he doesn’t go very far. He starts out questioning whether he should ditch it all and just surf, on a cosmic level, and in the first half of the book he repeatedly decides that’s what he should do before he finally does it. Nearly every conversation deals with the same topic and ends with the same decision. Then, when he does finally leave, he has that same conversation with a new group of characters, about how one needs to surf through the universe and not fight the waves: “…if you don’t ride the waves, nothing happens. And the cosmic surf doesn’t necessarily end on any beach. It rolls forever.” It does finally bring him to the mate he was searching for, someone he called “Jenny,” whom he’d seen in his dreams. Evidently, the philosophy is that there is a random design to things, so when Langman does fulfill his quest to be happy, there hasn’t been much of a real arc. The path he’s going to take seems obvious nearly from the start and comes to a predictable end.

A repetitive central metaphor and a trajectory that’s clear early on, which makes the journey feel short.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-1503088016

Page Count: 352

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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