An elegantly written novel for lovers of poetry and literary history.

THE LAST CONFESSIONS OF SYLVIA P.

Nonfiction author Kravetz’s debut novel is a compelling literary mystery that explores the creation of poet Sylvia Plath’s only novel.

Organized into nine “stanzas,” or sections, the narrative is told over three different timelines by three different women, all connected in some way to Plath. In 2019, Estee, a 65-year-old master curator for a small Boston auction house, must determine whether a set of notebooks found in the attic of a South Boston Victorian is the original manuscript of Plath’s semiautobiographical The Bell Jar, published under a pseudonym a few months before her suicide in 1963. As she vets the documents with the assistance of Plath expert Nicolas Jacob, Estee discovers an unexpected personal connection to the poet. Covering the years 1958 to 1963 in a letter addressed to her old poetry professor Robert Lowell, Boston Rhodes, a pen name for the ambitious Agatha White (a thinly veiled Anne Sexton), recounts the seething jealousy that drives her to undermine her literary rival. “Sylvia was a success in all the ways I was not,” she notes acidly. In 1953, Ruth Barnhouse, the only female psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, uses unconventional therapies to treat her patients, one of whom is a Miss Plath recovering from a failed suicide attempt. Kravetz skillfully weaves the three storylines into a satisfying whole as the mystery of Plath’s journals is resolved. Writing about real literary figures can be tricky, especially if their descendants are still living, but the author brings his characters, both imagined and historical, to life with sensitivity. Of his protagonists, Rhodes is the standout, an unreliable narrator nonpareil whose inner “venom voice…cuts to the marrow of truth.”

An elegantly written novel for lovers of poetry and literary history.

Pub Date: March 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-313999-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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