McMurtry's down-home fictions have always been juiced up with side-orders of raunchy charm and beer-barrel comedy—but this time he tries, with middling results, to make an entire novel out of such enticing (yet ultimately wearying) trimmings. Narrator-hero "Cadillac Jack" McGriff is a onetime rodeo bulldogger who now travels the country, in his pearly Cadillac, as a super-duper dealer/scout—picking up antiques and other collectibles (e.g., a load of gem-entrusted cowboy boots), buying at garage sales, selling to the super-rich. His prime client: Texas tycoon Boog, now living in Washington D.C. with gorgeous wife Boss—who fights fire with fire when it comes to Boog's lust for cheap women. (She'll "fuck six famous Yankees for every little pot he stuck his dipstick in.") And so twice-divorced Cadillac Jack winds up visiting D.C., where he promptly falls for two contrasting residents: social-climbing boutique owner Cindy, a freewheeling insta-bedmate who drags Jack to cartoony/gross elite Washington shindigs; and weary, downbeat Jean Tooley, an almost-divorcee who has two adorable little daughters . . . and who shares Jack's love of old, pretty things. Aside from some vague rumors about the Smithsonian collections being sold, then, there's hardly a flicker of drama as the leisurely narrative pokes along: Jack bounces back and forth between his two ladies; he also lusts after Boog's wife Boss (who prefers her tiny live-in Jewish poet) and dawdles with "two fat wet girls on a rubber mattress in a fairly low-grade pussy parlor"; he gets car-phone calls from ex-wife Coffee (who "thought World War II had occurred in the nineteenth century"). And finally, to clear his head, he drives out west—gathering famous pairs of boots (so Cindy can exhibit them), acquiring a forlorn traveling companion (a bored wife). . . but returning to find that he still can't commit himself to one woman or the other. McMurtry does a dandy job with Jack's business doings here: his highway world of garage-sale finds, auction fever, and obsessive acquisition is captured in rich, economic detail. And the quieter comedy (those cute daughters, the hooker conversations, poor Coffee) often scores. But the supposed center of this novel, Jack's romantic quandary, is uninvolving throughout, thanks to the thin characterizations—while the broader D.C. farce clashes badly with the tough-guy sentimentality. An idle mix of charm, noise, and hoke, then: far too long (unlike Dan Jenkins' comparable, modest Baja Oklahoma), fitfully endearing, and especially disappointing after the textured comedy/drama control of Somebody Darling.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 1982

ISBN: 0684853833

Page Count: 405

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.


In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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