Immensely readable, if occasionally flat. Wolitzer is best when she stirs the pot of familial and generational tensions.

THE POSITION

In Wolitzer’s slyly comic sixth, a couple publishes Pleasuring: One Couple’s Journey to Fulfillment, with illustrations of the authors in various positions including the gymnastic “Electric Forgiveness,” “a wonderful way to achieve climax quickly and lovingly after a scene of anger or stress.”

Things begin in November 1975 when Roz and Paul Mellow’s four children—teenagers Holly and Michael and their siblings Dashiell, eight, and Claudia, six—go through their parents’ book together in the family den in suburban Wontauket. Their “orchestra seats for the primal scene” ensure that none of them will be the same. Weaving together the stories of the four and their now-divorced parents, Wolitzer (The Wife, 2003, etc.) covers a wide swath of pop culture, from Claudia’s fascination with troll dolls to Dashiell’s discovery that he’s gay (and Republican), Michael’s antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction, and the downward trajectory of Holly, the oldest, who, after decades of drug-taking, emerges miraculously as a still attractive fortysomething nursing mother unwilling to deal with her family except from a distance. The thirtieth anniversary reissue of Pleasuring brings the family back into conflict. Roz, remarried and teaching at Skidmore, is all for it, wanting the attention and the royalties. Paul, retired in Florida with a long-suffering second wife, resists. We learn that Paul was originally Roz’s psychoanalyst (he was ousted from the profession) and that Roz left Paul for the illustrator of Pleasuring, who sketched the two for months and then declared his love. While Michael tries to convince his father to go along with the deal, his lover Thea plays Dora in a play based on the Freudian case study and starts an affair with her female costar; Dashiell gets Hodgkin’s and needs a stem-cell transplant; and Claudia meets David Gupta, whose parents live in her old house, and begins her first true love affair.

Immensely readable, if occasionally flat. Wolitzer is best when she stirs the pot of familial and generational tensions.

Pub Date: March 8, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-6178-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2004

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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