PORTRAIT OF THE WALRUS BY A YOUNG ARTIST

A mad tale of a mad genius, by a young author (Ex Utero, 1995) who may be a genius herself. The coming-of-age story has a long tradition behind it and is usually pretty easy to spot. Foos constructs hers with all the traditional materials—adolescent confusion, anger, family conflict, fear—built upon a foundation of allegory rather than realism, and the effect is as unsettling as a Tudor mansion erected in the desert. Frances Fisk, our narrator, is only 18, but she's already starting to come apart at the seams. Her late father, an artist who gained attention for his sculptures of men with chainsaws, became increasingly deranged and reclusive, dying of dehydration in a bathtub. Frances herself, with the passage of time, has grown more and more obsessed with her father and his art. Meanwhile, her mother Arlene, now married to professional bowler Stanley Boardman (``the Kingpin''), is so determined that her daughter not follow in her father's footsteps that she forbids Frances to work on her shark sculptures and insists that she take up bowling instead. ``If I had known walruses were waiting for me on some back road in Florida,'' Frances complains, ``I might have taken more of an interest in bowling.'' Why? Because the walruses Frances sees mating at the aquarium become a new obsession, one that ultimately saves her from madness and brings her to the realization that she's a poet rather than a sculptor. By the time this recognition transpires, the reader has been immersed in Frances's world long enough to understand, or at least accept, the odd logic that prevails in it, and the real strength of the narrative is the clarity with which it translates private griefs and misapprehensions into coherent symbols capable of advancing an astonishingly original story. Brilliant, fresh, and remarkable: one of the few works of recent years in which brave originality is sustained by genuine skill.

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: 1-56889-057-8

Page Count: 175

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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