McMurtry (The Last Picture Show) has perhaps attempted the impossible: he's portraying today's Hollywood, from the inside, in all its glossy ugliness, while at the same time trying to coax from that milieu some tenderness, some equivalent for the dead nostalgia of old-time Hollywood. And in the first third of this novel, it seems that he's truly succeeding—as 63-year-old hack screenwriter Joe Percy tells how he went to New York with hot new director Jill Peel for the opening of her film. Widower Joe is fat and often drunk, but he's also a "proficient adulterer" involved with gorgeous young wives of studio biggies. Still, he's willing to leave his latest flame behind in L.A. and keep Jill company; though 37 and attractive and a seasoned pro, she's childishly awkward and scared of the looming threat of fame. All of this works brilliantly, with Joe's satiric edge driving ever forward; the scenes in N.Y. may become cartoony (a press conference with artsily sophomoric critics, a fracas at Elaine's), but the texture of Jill and Joe's prickly fondness against the vacant crassness of the film biz is a tragicomic triumph. Then, however, the narration is picked up by Owen Oarson, the new lover that Jill acquires on that N.Y. trip, a dumb cynic and renowned stud who's using Jill to further his own career as a producer. Maybe he also loves her, sort of, but the fight-and-make-up affair between faithful Jill and promiscuous Owen—most of the rest of the book—never quite clicks, not even when Jill herself becomes the narrator. Happily, the focus does finally return to Jill and Joe (who is a dying man after a stroke): they join a grossly raunchy pair of Texan screenwriters on a gloriously pathetic caper, stealing the soundtrack of Jill's unreleased new film (the powerful star is butcher-editing it) and careening around Texas. If, however, McMurtry can't quite illuminate Jill's romantic waywardness, he zeroes in acutely on each character's romance with the film industry: Jill's doomed passion for it, Joe's surly affection for it, Owen's rape of it and by it. On location in Rome, at Hollywood parties (Jill watches a Daimation eat a huge block of caviar), at business lunches—the details and dropped names ring true, the dialogue crackles, and the characters glow. And, perhaps most remarkably of all, McMurtry has adopted the relentless four-letter-worded vocabulary and groinal preoccupations of Hollywood without surrendering some intangible thread of clean-hearted decency—just one of the elusive charms that make this imperfect but lovable book the closest thing to the New Hollywood novel to come along so far.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1978

ISBN: 0684853892

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1978

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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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