A daring exploration of a touchy subject, but with less emotional force than its setting would suggest.

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CHILDREN OF THE SUN

Two men come of age in different eras of Britain’s brash, violent and highly neurotic gay skinhead culture.

Schaefer’s debut novel is built on two alternating narrative threads. The first focuses on Tony, a teenager whose sexual awakening occurs at nearly the same time he becomes involved in England’s white-power movement of the '70s. The scene is defined by hypermasculine trappings—heavy boots, violence and aggressive punk rock—and though homosexuality within the tribe is an open secret, Tony has to be careful while negotiating it. The second thread, set in 2003, concerns James, a young writer researching the very movement that Tony was involved in. Alternating between the two time periods is a revealing conceit: It shows how time transformed skinhead culture from something that was brutally racist to a relatively benign sex fetish. Where Tony furtively negotiated hookups in bathroom stalls and participated in group melees with blacks and Asians, James spends time on personals sites online where men merely play-act as Nazis. Still, the role-playing has a virulent power of its own, and as James becomes more involved in his research, his friends have legitimate concerns that he’s gone native. The book is based on plenty of research—the text is interspersed with reproductions of fanzine articles, flyers for white-power bands like Skrewdriver and news stories, with a particular focus on the life of Nicky Crane, a neo-Nazi who had a complicated relationship with the movement before dying of AIDS in 1993. That historical verisimilitude is matched by Schaefer’s skill at showing how racists come to rationalize their hate. Too often, though, James’s dialogue lapses into history lessons about the white-power movement, and in the same way that James’s obsession overwhelms his friendships, secondary characters in the book—musicians, party leaders, boyfriends—rarely feel like more than tokens. By the novel’s end, Tony and James’s lives have moved in surprising ways, but the subplots and detail sap some of the climax’s dramatic power.

A daring exploration of a touchy subject, but with less emotional force than its setting would suggest.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59376-297-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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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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