A good story energized by a timely premise but perhaps a bit heavy on the literary effects.



The lives of five women in a small Oregon town are affected by the outlawing of abortion and an imminent ban on single parenthood.

A billboard on the highway to Canada reads, "WON’T STOP ONE, / WON’T START ONE. / CANADA UPHOLDS U.S. LAW!" After the Personhood Amendment grants rights to embryos, the U.S.–Canadian border becomes a “Pink Wall.” Women crossing to seek pregnancy terminations or in vitro fertilizations are returned to the U.S. for prosecution. Following the current fashion for braided narratives, this story is told from five perspectives. Ro, whose chapters are labeled “The Biographer,” is a single high school teacher who's trying desperately to get pregnant before single parenthood is outlawed. Mattie, “The Daughter,” is an academically gifted teenager whose best friend is already in juvenile jail for attempting a home abortion. Now she too is pregnant, and desperate. Susan, “The Wife,” is married to another teacher at the high school, miserable with him and with domestic life in general. She and the Biographer are competitive frenemies who misunderstand and resent each other even as they regularly socialize. Gin, “The Mender,” is a natural healer who lives in the woods, an underground provider of herbal abortions, in more danger from the new laws than she realizes. Finally, Eivør Minervudottir is a (fictional) 19th-century explorer of the North Pole, the subject of the Biographer’s work. Her sections are brief avant-garde flashes that include recipes for cooking puffin and pilot whale and crossed-out lines revealing the Biographer’s process. The other four characters are entangled in complicated, trickily unfolding ways, as is usual in this type of fractured narrative. Zumas (The Listener, 2012, etc.) is a lyrical polymath of a writer: she loves wordplay and foreign terms, she has an ear for dialogue, and she knows an impressive amount about herbal healing, Arctic exploration, and the part of the U.S. her story is set in, its “dark hills dense with hemlock, fir, and spruce,” its “fog-smoked evergreen mountains, thousand-foot cliffs plunging straight down to the sea.”

A good story energized by a timely premise but perhaps a bit heavy on the literary effects.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-43481-2

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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