A carefully considered character study that digs deep to explore the ways the past can shade and shape the present.

THE UNKNOWN BRIDESMAID

In this dark, disquieting novel, veteran British writer Forster (Isa & May, 2011, etc.) toggles back and forth in time to explore the enduring effects of guilt on a child psychologist whose own difficult youth casts an unshakeable shadow across her adult life.

Julia spends her days interviewing troubled children in her clinic, trying to tease out the truth in conflicting stories and the root causes of problematic behavior, but in fact, she understands these children more than anyone may be aware. Though she appears to others a model of maturity—a hard worker, a homeowner, a newly appointed magistrate—she carries with her the unresolved conflicts, unanswered questions, unshared secrets and unspoken confessions of her own uneasy youth. Julia has followed a path of poor choices, either unable or unwilling to turn back or change course, ever since, at age 8, she was invited to serve as a bridesmaid at the wedding of her beautiful cousin Iris. She has acted cruelly, stolen casually, lied calculatedly, refused to acknowledge kindness and concern—and her actions have taken a toll. But did Julia, as a little girl, kill Iris' baby? And, even as she helps others correct course, will she ever find the resolve to go back and correct her own? These questions underpin Forster's patchwork narrative—and in a sense weigh it down and limit its scope. The accomplished author reaches deep to explore hidden truths and raises issues about resolving past conflicts, but in contending with these topics, somewhat heavy-handedly, she doesn't cover much territory. Thin on plot, the book may be best regarded as a character study carrying lessons about facing one's past, righting one's wrongs and using one's experience to help others. That message alone may resonate with some readers.

A carefully considered character study that digs deep to explore the ways the past can shade and shape the present.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60945-222-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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