An earnest fictional effort that, in all, still seems to be searching for what it really wants to be about.

SERIOUSLY

Certain moments have their allure, but most things are familiar in Nevai’s (Normal, stories, 1997) tales of small-town gossip, suspicion, and intrigue.

Tamara Johanssen fled to the little Dustin, New York, because—well, because her very crazy mother burned down the family house along with the family members unlucky enough to be in it, the two exceptions being Tamara herself (out on a date, sort of) and older sister Nora, who’d already fled the coop and headed off to become a rich and big-time TV producer. This rather operatic premise, however, recedes quickly into the background as Tamara describes life in little Dustin, where she opens an art gallery—with money from sister Nora—and then segues into life as a photographer. The book is presented as a novel but reads more like a “novel-in-stories” hybrid—not that there’s anything wrong with that, except that in Nevai’s case a sense of novelistic growth seems to have gone missing. Part of the problem is the near-obligatory and afternoon-soap feel of much of the material: the mean-spirited old codger who runs the post office; the good-hearted woman who has the coffee shop; the crazed-by-property-rights person who sits on her lawn with a shotgun on Halloween—and actually shoots it at Tamara as she approaches. Add in an arsonist, a neurasthenic lesbian entrepreneur, downtrodden wives, stalkers, the wannabe Faulknerian episode of the eccentric who dies in his trailer but nobody knows it, so that—anyway, with all these lives from a latter-day Spoon River or Winesburg, Ohio, crowding the canvas, not only does Tamara’s secret (for awhile) affair with the lawyer-husband of sister Nora’s bitchy college roommate glide away as if on the river of the forgotten, but so does the theme of mother-madness that putatively first set the book’s events originally into motion.

An earnest fictional effort that, in all, still seems to be searching for what it really wants to be about.

Pub Date: June 9, 2004

ISBN: 0-316-74693-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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