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A muted and haphazardly constructed story about several lonely souls whose hesitant interrelations barely ruffle the surface of life in the decidedly unglamourous upstate New York town of Paris—the second novel from the author of She Wanted Something Else (1987). “I’m interested in possibility,” declares Helene Hugel, a 30ish German-American woman who lives on her “Uncle” William Swick’s chicken farm, works at the local post office, and more or less passively endures a nonloving sexual relationship with Harry, the middle-aged macho sexist owner of a bar pointedly named “Better Days.” Most of the characters here have indeed seen such, even if William” a dwarf, and therefore the object of ongoing public ridicule and condescension—clings precariously to the “possibility” that Helene’s late mother Uta (whom William had taken in, children in tow, when Uta arrived in America after The War) would have eventually married him. Staffel observes her characters” quiet vulnerability with a wry tenderness somewhat reminiscent of John Irving, expanding their orbits to include a piecemeal history of Uta’s traumatic losses during the firebombing of Dresden (which she painstakingly recorded in the diary Helene now laboriously translates); and, rather more arbitrarily, the story of Stella Doyle, a half-Mexican teenager whose energies and attention waver between her all-American boyfriend on the one hand, and, on the other, the problem posed by her clinically depressed and obese mother. This is a daunting variety of material, all of which often feels like three novellas that haven—t quite fused successfully into a single story. Readers will understand that these are all “lost things” seeking some definition, if not fulfillment, of their abbreviated and enigmatic human connections. But Staffel’s people still don—t seem to belong all in the same book, and we don—t know what to make of them any more than they themselves do.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 1999

ISBN: 1-56947-160-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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