A case of a reporter’s objectivity failing the needs of fiction.



Marriage to the man at the pulpit is an ordeal of biblical proportions for a trio of wives in this uneven debut from former Time reporter Cullen.

Ruthie and Jerry fulfill our expectations of New Yorkers—he works in finance, she in PR, and they live busy lives filled with takeout and friends. Then Jerry is called to God. Ruthie, a lapsed Catholic, is stunned but supportive when Jerry announces he is quitting Wall Street to work for an evangelical megachurch in Georgia. She always knew Jerry was spiritual (after all, they met while he was a theology student), but their religious differences seemed irrelevant to their urban life. Soon enough, the two are on the campus of the Greenleaf Church, where staff and parishioners are encouraged to drive green hybrids, use the church’s store and cafe, enjoy the Christian-themed yoga studio and enroll the kids in their day care. Ruthie and Jerry are housed in the same gated community where the church’s charismatic leader, Aaron Green, and his wife, Candace, live. Ruthie is strangely nonplused by their move to a Southern-style Stepford and is in fact impressed by first lady Candace. While Jerry is turning into Pastor Green’s right-hand man, Ruthie makes friends with Ginger, Candace and Aaron’s daughter-in-law. Ginger is often alone with her two small children (while her husband happily jets around the world on disaster relief missions), at the mercy of Candace’s haughty commands. When Ginger’s past (an Internet porn career before she was saved and married) comes to light, Candace shows everyone how to play hardball. Meanwhile, Ruthie fears that she and Jerry are drifting apart and that he is seeing the choir’s lead singer, a true believer, which is something Ruthie will never be. Though Cullen’s story occasionally feels like a juicy secret revealed, the novel lacks a consistent authorial point of view. Filled with Bible verses and an insider’s unquestioning acceptance of evangelicalism (the novel could do well in the Christian fiction market), it fails to fully examine Ruthie’s role as outsider until the end.

A case of a reporter’s objectivity failing the needs of fiction. 

Pub Date: April 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-452-29882-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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