Ambitious in premise, formulaic in execution.



A feisty abolitionist journeys to pre-Civil War Kansas in search of her lover and defies a band of pro-slavery marauders led by a psychopath.

Mackey (The Notorious Mrs. Winston, 2007, etc.) doesn’t give her heroine the genteel upbringing typical of a young lady circa 1853. Raised in Brazil by her explorer/ entrepreneur/botanist father, Carrie Vinton befriends escaped African slaves and is a crack shot. Her beloved since childhood days in Kentucky is physician William Saylor, who runs a blockade in Rio during a smallpox epidemic to treat Carrie’s dying father. Then the lovers are stricken, and Carrie wakes up in a convent hospital to find that no one can tell her of William’s fate. Her late father has left her an immense fortune, and William has left her pregnant. She succumbs to the blandishments of Deacon Presgrove, a smooth-talking former actor who arrives in Rio to inform her that his stepbrother William did indeed perish in the epidemic. Newly wed to Deacon, the son of rabid pro-slavery senator Bennet Presgrove, Carrie gives birth aboard a Washington-bound ship, but her premature baby dies. In the capital, Deacon promptly reveals his true colors: not only does he endorse slavery, he himself owns a slave, a young prostitute in a nearby bordello. Deacon has also usurped Carrie’s fortune and perpetrated a fake obituary of her that led William (that’s right, he’s alive too) to head for Kansas, a territory now embroiled in violent clashes over whether it will become a slave or free state. Carrie follows, and from here the plot hews faithfully to historical incident, detailing battles between slavers and abolitionists. (John Brown and his sons are among the latter, dispatching slaveholders with broadswords.) Despite the author’s efforts to enliven things with Clark, a homicidal nutcase hired by Deacon, the Kansas section devolves into predictable adventure-romance, not helped by disconcertingly contemporary diction.

Ambitious in premise, formulaic in execution.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-425-22791-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2009

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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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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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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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