A frustrating debut that doesn’t reach nearly far enough. But don’t bet that it won’t become very, very popular.

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COLUMBUS SLAUGHTERS BRAVES

Echoes of Bang the Drum Slowly, The Natural, and Brian’s Song are heard throughout this literate weeper about an athlete dying young: an intermittently incisive though ultimately flat first novel.

The story’s narrated—in a pleasingly lucid, confident voice—by Joe Columbus, the older brother who watches with mingled amazement, subdued pride, and rancorous envy as his sibling CJ becomes a baseball phenom and a beloved public figure. Joe drifts into marriage with his college girlfriend Beth, then settles into a career as a high-school science teacher as she moves into a high-pressure law firm. Meanwhile, golden boy CJ—as intelligent, friendly, and generous as he is athletically gifted—rises from sandlot prominence in their southern California neighborhood to dazzling success as the Chicago Cubs’ All Star third baseman, even challenging Joe DiMaggio’s consecutive game-hitting streak. Friedman forcefully communicates the jealousy even Joe knows is irrational and unfair (“What I really wanted was that some thing, the smallest thing, would be denied him”). But there isn’t really a whole lot of novel here. Subplots involving Joe’s dealings with a problem student, Beth’s relationship with a colleague who uses her as model for a character in his fiction, and the couple’s incompatibility, seemingly cured by her surprise pregnancy, bear a token relation to the main plot here, but really only manage to distract our attention from it. Even potentially strong scenes, like Joe’s nighttime visit with his father to “Nikeland” while CJ lies gravely ill in a hospital, are inexplicably truncated, as if Friedman saw no need to develop them. Still, there’s no doubt that the Cain-and-Abel tension between the brothers engages our attention, or that the emotional closing pages do not have genuine impact.

A frustrating debut that doesn’t reach nearly far enough. But don’t bet that it won’t become very, very popular.

Pub Date: March 29, 2001

ISBN: 0-618-02520-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed. This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel". It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define. Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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