An initially off-putting collection that gradually becomes habit-forming.

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VARIETIES OF DISTURBANCE

STORIES

More dauntingly opaque but often brilliant snippets and meditations from MacArthur recipient Davis (Samuel Johnson Is Indignant, 2001, etc.).

Davis, an esteemed translator from French, writes in the tradition of the French postmodernists and surrealists. (She’s translated Blanchot and Leiris.) The 56 stories in this volume include short prose poems (“The Fly,” “Head, Heart”) and chilling one-liners (“Suddenly Afraid,” “Mother’s Reaction to My Travel Plans”). Two of the longer pieces adopt the dispassionate protocols of case studies. “We Miss You” exhaustively deconstructs get-well letters written by ’50s-era fourth graders to a classmate hospitalized after being hit by a car. “Helen and Vi, a Study in Health and Vitality” analyzes how the workaday routines and altruism of two elderly women have contributed to their healthy longevity. (Contrast the intermittent, italicized foibles of narcissist Hope, age 100.) Many of the stories not overtly labeled studies are structured as such, with topical captions, such as “Mrs. D. and Her Maids,” possibly about Davis’s writer-mother. Parents, particularly aged parents, are a preoccupation: Davis has clearly done her time in the halls of eldercare. Her narrators are cynical and reluctant but “good-enough” caregivers. In “What You Learn About the Baby,” a mother catalogs in excruciating detail just how her infant dominates and disrupts her life. The laconic “Burning Family Members” bears hard-eyed, shell-shocked witness to a father’s death. Unabashedly autobiographical, like many of the stories, is “The Walk,” a defense of Davis’s translation of Proust’s Swann’s Way (2003) vs. the Moncrieff/Kilmartin translation, and “Cape Cod Diary,” in which a writer vicariously travels America with a nameless French historian (presumably de Tocqueville, also translated by Davis). Her impersonal, bloodless tone, plain prose style and tendency to summarize rather than dramatize can have a distancing effect; but Davis’ ability to parse hopelessly snarled human interactions (as in the title story) astounds.

An initially off-putting collection that gradually becomes habit-forming.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-374-28173-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous White policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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