Uneven mix of silliness and insight that doesn’t quite coalesce.


The third from Haynes (Chalktown, 2001; and Oprah-pick Mother of Pearl, 1999) is a family drama mixed with gothic comedy set in rural Mississippi circa 1974.

Having sold his successful business out west, 70-year-old Willem Fremont heads back to Purvis, Mississippi, to find the homestead he abandoned in his youth, land now owned by the Till family. Bruno Till has returned from Vietnam with a spinal injury that keeps him housebound while his wife Leah, an educated girl from suburbia, works the farm. The two have all but stopped communicating, trapped by their individual insecurities and longings. Meanwhile, Bruno’s obese and hapless younger brother Sonny is building a shrimp boat in the backyard of the house next door, where he lives with their mother Eilene, who feigns deafness to cope with her furious—and understandable—disappointment in her sons. Down the road, Alyce Benson manages the motel where Willem takes a room while Alyce’s no-good husband Joe chases women and commits petty thievery. Alyce also sells vacuums door-to-door, and her encounter with the lonely Bruno sets the stage for a blow-up between Bruno and Leah. Bruno then moves out, unaware that Leah is pregnant. While he waits for Leah to ask him back, she mistakenly assumes he is romantically involved with Alyce. Although Willem is the title character, readers will be less drawn to his struggle with panic attacks and his burgeoning romance with prickly Eilene than they’ll be to Bruno and Leah’s troubled marriage—portrayed with delicacy and depth as the two find their way back together. On the other hand, Sonny is a buffoon and Joe Benson a cardboard villain whose violent downfall is treated as cartoon comedy. Haynes depicts some scenes so carefully they become sluggish. Her Mississippi is chock-full of cuteness and caricature, but Bruno and Leah are riveting and irresistible.

Uneven mix of silliness and insight that doesn’t quite coalesce.

Pub Date: May 5, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-3849-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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

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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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