THE MIRROR

Freed's third (Home Ground, 1986; The Bungalow, 1993) is a poetically robust tale of natural nobility—as a woman determines for herself what love and propriety are. In 1920, Agnes La Grange leaves a poor life in England for Durban, South Africa, to make her future. In the house of the Jewish family where she first works as maid, the wife is dying—which doesn't keep the husband from sneaking to Agnes's room to make love while watching in a mirror he's given her. His unrestrained passion for her (old and a head shorter may he be) leads her to say, ``I have never felt so strongly the power of being alive.'' And that's in truth the only power Agnes ever wants or values. During her pregnancy, the ``old Jew,'' as she calls him bluntly but without judgment, puts her up in the Railway Hotel—an establishment of which, after the birth of her daughter Leah, she becomes owner and new proprietress by finessing the old man into putting up the money. From then on, Agnes is on her way. ``The newspaperman'' will be a weak and soon-divorced husband, followed by such lovers as Agnes finds attractive—``the banker,'' ``the hunter,'' and ``the trader.'' Agnes doesn't read even the papers, but her beauty, life, and business sense draw others to her, seeing her through the Depression and WW II as she's cheated but recovers, buys more property, sees Leah become a famous singer—although not before Leah does just what Agnes did in seducing a husband (readers will find out whose), leaving Agnes a gorgeous child to raise as a second daughter. Forget improprieties: As Agnes says, ``this wasn't a story . . . this was life.'' Candor, passion, and love of life put Agnes on a par with the Wife of Bath, while Freed adds the treats of succulent place and period flavor, even 20 black-and-white photographs of the very places where Agnes walked, slept, loved, and lived. A pleasure.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-517-70320-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more