DANCER WITH BRUISED KNEES

Like McFall's debut, The One True Story of the World (1990), this meandering novel features a troubled woman with a witty voice and a sad family history. It also poses a question that begs to be asked in today's publishing world: Is it crass to say dysfunction has grown into a dull subject? On her 39th birthday, Sarah Blight loses an eye in a barroom fight with a former lover's new girlfriend. To make matters worse, Blight is a photographer, and she compares relearning her craft with one orb to ``lovemaking after a mastectomy.'' Later that same year, her brother is accused of having murdered his ex-wife, her grandmother dies, and she is diagnosed with manic depression and ``secondary alcoholism.'' These misfortunes—and many others—read more like country-and-western lyrics than a novel. The incidents are strung together loosely; they carry weighty symbolic import and are embellished with pretty touches, but are rarely credible. The narrator's name is only one example of this book's strong-arm sensibility. Blight's son writes violent letters home from Europe bearing titles like ``I-Broke-My-Fist-for-Love-of-You Blues.'' Her former husband—now married to someone else but still trysting with her periodically—is deeply angered when she reveals that she once cheated on him during their marriage. Both her dealings with a doctor who prescribes lithium and Prozac and her flashbacks of growing up with her violent brother, who killed cats for entertainment, give fictional life to modern pop psychology without adding anything. Blight's doubts about her brother's involvement with the murder, and her indecision about opening or not opening a metal box that might contain evidence, are hollow given the siblings' cold relationship. Sometimes McFall is funny, but even the clever turns of phrase get lost in the muck. Like alcohol—can cause laughter but rapidly evaporates.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8118-0787-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

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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