Riotous, undisciplined and disjointed, yet mesmerizing.

THE SOUND OF BUILDING COFFINS

Cursed lives revived and cleansed by a 1906 New Orleans flood.

Maistros’ characters represent the dregs of the old New Orleans underclass, Creoles of mixed-race heritage. In 1891, the habitués of a local gin joint attend the exorcism of a djab, or voodoo demon, possessing Dominick, infant son of Antonio, who has just been lynched by an anti-immigrant mob. This demon was originally unleashed in 1853, when Malvina, a voodoo priestess, summoned it to wreak revenge on Marcus Nobody Special, a gravedigger who had impregnated and abandoned her niece Maria. Noonday Morningstar, a widowed preacher, defies divine warnings to preside over the exorcism, and pays with his life. Also present is Doctor Jack, a sawbones and abortionist, and nine-year-old Typhus (Noonday’s children are all named after diseases), whose heart is gripped by his father’s ghostly hand. Dominick grows into trickster and troublemaker Jim Jam Jump, spelling trouble for the surviving Morningstars, including his partner-in-crime Dropsy. The tangled fortunes of Noonday’s progeny are the closest thing this novel has to a unifying device. Malaria gives up singing ambitions to mother her orphaned siblings. Diphtheria has clawed her way up from “the cribs,” low-rent fleshpots, to the relative luxe of the city’s best bordello. Her son West, whose neglectful father Buddy becomes the first jazz cornet man, is obsessed with buttons. Diphtheria elected not to abort him with Doctor Jack’s toxic tea. Typhus, Doctor Jack’s assistant, “rebirths” aborted fetuses by reshaping them into Mississippi catfishes. Doctor Jack urges Typhus, now a man forever trapped in a nine-year-old’s body, to concentrate his unmet romantic yearnings on the photograph of a mysterious beauty. Marcus fishes tirelessly, awaiting an encounter with one special catfish, his lost son. The spirit realm, which in Maistros’ world resides in water, intrudes upon the living with plenty of irreverent and poignant commentary. As the great flood approaches, the Morningstar body count mounts, and self-effacing Malaria will be the family’s last hope.

Riotous, undisciplined and disjointed, yet mesmerizing.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59264-255-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2008

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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