If Hinton’s conclusion is a bit too easy for realism, the emotional journey these two strangers make offers a spiritual...


An oddly satisfying little novel from Hinton (The Arms of God, 2005, etc.), most of which takes place during a single night at a mental institution.

As the story begins, Andy considers those things which made possible her fall into depression: the summer heat, the idle neglect of neighbors, the ominous absence of butterflies. We soon learn that this headlong swing into the abyss is nothing new for Andy—it is a shadow that crosses her life from time to time. But this summer it interferes with her work (she is a research librarian at a Southern university) and she is put on leave. She enters Holly Pines dubious and desperate, and she leaves fully recovered—all thanks to a suicidal prisoner from the local penitentiary. Feeling no better after weeks at the private hospital, Andy decides on her last day to attend chapel service. There she sees for the first time Lathin, a middle-aged African-American with bandages on his arms. She knows he has been moved to the room next to hers, but it comes as a surprise when, in the late evening, he begins talking to her through the air vent. Like priest and confessor separated by a wall, the two exchange confidences and memories so fragile they’ve barely been spoken. He tells her about his mother and her sad, obsessive love for a small cactus, and of his daughter Mary, who mysteriously quit speaking. Andy tells Lathin of her own mother, a waitress wandering from one town and man to another, dreaming of becoming a journalist. Then she tells Lathin of the best time in her life, of the summers she spent on her grandmother’s farm with her beloved cousin PeeDee, of the happiness and the tragedy that shaped Andy’s safe, hollow adult life.

If Hinton’s conclusion is a bit too easy for realism, the emotional journey these two strangers make offers a spiritual truth about the power of confession and forgiveness.

Pub Date: March 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-34796-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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