The good news is that Schmidt still feels he has 10 years to live, which likely means at least one more novel.

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SCHMIDT STEPS BACK

In the third of the Schmidt novels, what had been described as a comedy of manners turns tragic and redemptive.

Updike had Rabbit, Roth has Zuckerman, Richard Ford has Bascombe and Begley has Schmidt. While all serve a similar purpose, to illuminate American life and culture through the passages of one man’s maturation, the return of “Schmidtie” represents a significant advance from preceding volumes (Schmidt Delivered, 2000, etc.). An even longer interval has passed in Schmidt’s life than between books, since the protagonist readers knew in his early 60s is now 78 (it’s hard to imagine Jack Nicholson continuing in this role). Now deep into his second career, as a retired lawyer turned foundation head, he is much more concerned with topical events—wars and terrorism and politics (he loves Obama). And he has found new love with a woman who is more age appropriate, merely 15 years his junior (in contrast with the promiscuous waitress, younger than his daughter, who continues to play a key role in his life). Artistically and thematically, this is the most ambitious novel in the Schmidt cycle, also the longest, and it requires familiarity with the earlier volumes to appreciate its richness. It ties the ends left loose at the conclusion of the last—his relationships with his daughter and his former lover, and the anticipation of the two babies that will make him a grandfather (and perhaps a father as well). Yet chronologically this isn’t a mere continuation of the Schmidt narrative, but one that finds him reflecting (“stepping back”), coming to terms with some pivotal episodes that were either downplayed or omitted from the first two novels. He has arrived at a place where he feels he has “at last grown up,” possibly capable of a “rebirth.” Yet, given the course his life has taken and the stage at which he has arrived, he compares himself to Lear and Job, facing what is likely his “last chance.”

The good news is that Schmidt still feels he has 10 years to live, which likely means at least one more novel. 

Pub Date: March 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-70065-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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A lovely read—entertaining, poignant, and meaningful.

THE OYSTERVILLE SEWING CIRCLE

After facing tragedy and betrayal in New York, an aspiring fashion designer escapes to her idyllic Pacific coast hometown to raise her best friend’s two young children and finds inspiration, redemption, and love in the unexpected journey.

Caroline Shelby always dreamed of leaving tiny Oysterville, Washington, and becoming a couturier. After years of toil, she finally has a big break only to discover a famous designer has stolen her launch line. When she accuses him, he blackballs her, so she’s already struggling when her best friend, Angelique, a renowned model from Haiti whose work visa has expired, shows up on her doorstep with her two biracial children, running from an abusive partner she won’t identify. When Angelique dies of a drug overdose, Caroline takes custody of the kids and flees back to her hometown. She reconnects with her sprawling family and with Will and Sierra Jensen, who were once her best friends, though their relationships have grown more complicated since Will and Sierra married. Caroline feels guilty that she didn’t realize Angelique was abused and tries to make a difference when she discovers that people she knows in Oysterville are also victims of domestic violence. She creates a support group that becomes a welcome source of professional assistance when some designs she works on for the kids garner local interest that grows regional, then national. Meanwhile, restless Sierra pursues her own dreams, leading to Will and Caroline’s exploring some unresolved feelings. Wiggs’ latest is part revenge fantasy and part romantic fairy tale, and while some details feel too smooth—how fortunate that every person in the circle has some helpful occupation that benefits Caroline's business—Caroline has a challenging road, and she rises to it with compassion and resilience. Timelines alternating among the present and past, both recent and long ago, add tension and depth to a complex narrative that touches on the abuse of power toward women and the extra-high stakes when the women involved are undocumented. Finally, Wiggs writes about the children’s race and immigration status with a soft touch that feels natural and easygoing but that might seem unrealistic to some readers.

A lovely read—entertaining, poignant, and meaningful.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-242558-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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