A writer adept at long-form narrative delivers an uneven collection of short stories.



The author of Peculiar Ground (2018) reimagines familiar stories in the contemporary United Kingdom.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Orpheus, and Mary’s husband, Joseph, are among the figures Hughes-Hallett lifts from mythology, fairy tales, and other traditional forms for this collection. In reimagining these characters, the author is participating in a tradition as old as storytelling itself. Much of the appeal of borrowing well-known characters and time-honored tropes lies in making the familiar fresh again. Writers from Ovid to William Shakespeare to Angela Carter show readers why particular narratives and narrative types endure by making them newly relevant. Hughes-Hallett’s efforts to perform this same magic are mixed. Here, Mary Magdalen is a prostitute—not asserted in the New Testament but definitely an element of her legend—as well as an aesthetician who performs intimate waxes on clients. Psyche is a young woman so self-possessed and beautiful that she terrifies and enrages men. Actaeon is a wildly successful real estate agent and committed voyeur. Each of these stories has its charms, but none is particularly successful. Hughes-Hallett doesn’t seem to grasp that her Mary Magdalen is so much more interesting than the Jesus figure who beguiles her; indeed, Mary Magdalen’s attraction to this charismatic cypher is her least compelling feature. At the end of Psyche’s tale, the author switches to a sort of postmodern voice that doesn’t feel so much like an intriguing stylistic choice as like the author has lost interest in the story. And “Actaeon” suffers from two issues that are endemic in this collection. There is a heavy reliance on exposition, to the point that these tales read more like outlines for novels than short fictions. And these stories only come to life when knowledge of the source material isn’t necessary to find the story compelling. “Orpheus” is a fantastic piece of short fiction even if you don’t know anything about this musician as he appears in Greek poetry and multiple modern iterations. Hughes-Hallett’s Oz is an old man among many old men hanging around a hospital ward. “Some of them had big trainers, shiny white shoes made for athletes, but here nobody sprang, nobody leapt.” That’s excellent anyway, and it’s gorgeous if you know Oz’s Greek antecedent.

A writer adept at long-form narrative delivers an uneven collection of short stories.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294009-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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