SaFranko (Lounge Lizard, 2007, etc.) has a talent for two-fisted, Bukowski-esque prose, but he needs a story more worthy of...



A couple’s torrid affair slowly hits the skids over money, sex and art.

The novel stars narrator Max Zajack, who’s struggling to balance go-nowhere jobs with an ambition to write great fiction in the lover-and-fighter mode of Norman Mailer and Henry Miller. (The book includes a praise-soaked introduction by Dan Fante, another member of that tribe.) Max is living in a decrepit New Jersey apartment and loading trucks for a living when, one night after playing guitar in a coffee shop, he meets Olivia, an attractive literature student. Their connection is almost immediate, though their relationship is more about sex than anything else—in the early pages SaFranko’s prose is enthusiastically profane, capturing the hunger the two have for each other’s bodies. Max moves into Olivia’s apartment not long after, but it’s soon clear that Olivia has bigger issues than he can handle: She quits her classes in a fit of pique, spends money she doesn’t have on expensive clothes and is prone to screaming fits and threats that she’ll do herself in. As Olivia’s erratic behavior endangers the couple, Max struggles to find work, and many of the most entertaining set pieces have more to do with his day-job frustrations than with the titular character. Max’s gigs involve doing practically nothing at AT&T and delivering newspapers to wealthy New Jersey suburbanites, jobs that heighten the novel’s man-versus-Middle-America theme. As a narrator Max is engaging, funny and full of straight-talk, and his novel-in-progress is meant to push back against the complacency he witnesses daily. But while Max feels full-blooded, Olivia is largely a bundle of ever-escalating rage. There’s little effort to identify the root causes of her actions (scenes describing her troubled relationship with her parents are thin), so the final chapters of the novel take on a repetitive feel: Olivia does something flighty, Max attempts to reason with her, Olivia explodes. Eventually the squabbles sap the novel’s power—it, like the relationship it describes, has gone on for too long.

SaFranko (Lounge Lizard, 2007, etc.) has a talent for two-fisted, Bukowski-esque prose, but he needs a story more worthy of it.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-197919-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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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...


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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