An uneven book that struggles with its own fragmentation but occasionally offers striking reflections on the strange...

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SILENCE AND SONG

Thon (The Voice of the River, 2011, etc.) explores various forms of grief and trauma in a book with an unusual structure.

The first section of Thon’s book darts back and forth between several fragmented narratives ostensibly connected by a woman’s musings on loss and a shared setting of the Sonoran Desert. Deaths in a family, beginning with a tragic car accident, cripple its members with a claustrophobic, muffling sorrow. South American immigrants trudge across the harsh but extraordinary landscape, suffering terrible deaths from lack of water and welcome. A virtuous man is shot by a troubled child and falls into a coma. None of these stories possess much narrative drive; broken into disjointed pieces and offered in impressionistic style, they serve as pieces of a mosaic that provide a shimmering and elaborate sense of grief but little emotional impact. The sentiments verge on cloying and seem oddly scattered, and the section ends abruptly to make way for a short piece describing a performance in a Salt Lake City literacy center. The third part of the book, the curiously punctuated “requiem: home: and the rain, after,” juxtaposes a Seattle murder with the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. While also often fragmented and working a slippery divide between prose and the rhythm and structure of poetry, the narratives here possess intense emotional resonance. Partly narrated by the sister of the murderer and partly by the “liquidators” charged with obliterating the effects of radioactive fallout, the horrors of both personal and environmental disasters gain real traction, and Thon’s lyrical descriptions give a glimpse of the beauty of possible recovery.

An uneven book that struggles with its own fragmentation but occasionally offers striking reflections on the strange resilience of both humans and the natural world.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-57366-053-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Univ. of Alabama

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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