An unforgiving story about abuse in a fractured and ruined family.

On A Fool's Errand

A young girl struggles through life with an alcohol-swilling mother and a violent stepfather in this debut novel.

Liz Burke, age 9, is growing up hard in a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania in the 1940s. She has two brothers—one older, one younger—named Patrick and Matthew, and a dictator of a mother named Clare. Dad died years before in an accident at work, and Clare struggles to make ends meet working at the local brewery. One day, Liz and Patrick cut school to go to the river, and Patrick hits his head and drowns. Liz blames herself for the accident and now has to endure grief, problems at school, and a mother who is drinking heavily. She also needs to take care of Matthew, a sensitive boy who is just starting first grade. Unable to make rent, Clare begins to bring home gentlemen in the evenings, and Liz faces taunts at school for her mother’s descent into prostitution. Seeking a permanent mate, Clare latches on to Nick Sinclair, a veteran who has started working at the brewery. It is not long before he and Clare are brawling in the kitchen in drunken spats. Nick also physically abuses the kids and later rapes Liz. She tells no one of the crime, and the insanity at home continues. By the time Liz is 12, she is pregnant with Nick’s child, and the veteran, who fears exposure, takes her to Seattle. Clare, who had abandoned the family in disgust, is reunited with Matthew, while Liz begins anew in Washington under the impression she is in a loving relationship with Nick. Wammer’s narrative about wartime life in coal country describes the sometimes-brutal realities faced by his characters with a good deal of emotion and does well to add several kindhearted characters to the madhouse, including Liz herself and the departed dad. But parts of the story strain credulity. Too many people believe the often told lie that Liz is almost 18, and an additional sexual pairing with her and another man in Washington is unnecessary. Through a series of about-face personality changes from several characters and a tale that spans decades, the sad novel begins to feel overdone and a tad gratuitous.

An unforgiving story about abuse in a fractured and ruined family.

Pub Date: March 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5333-6849-2

Page Count: 346

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2016

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.


A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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