“Does America get the art it deserves?” wonders Peter. Or the novel?

BY NIGHTFALL

A surfeit of literary and cultural references can’t disguise a lightweight soap opera.

Literary subject matter is familiar territory for Cunningham (whose 1998 novel, The Hours, won a Pulitzer), but this novel’s incessant evocations of James, Eliot, Joyce, Mann, Fitzgerald, Melville (and Carver and Barthelme and others) makes the narrative feel slight by comparison. Peter is a successful Manhattan art dealer; Rebecca, his wife of 21 years, edits a literary journal that is threatening to fold. “In a long marriage, you learn to identify a multitude of different atmospheres and weathers,” thinks Peter early on, though it may well be that they neither know each other as well nor are as satisfied with their marriage as both initially seem to believe. Complication arrives in the form of Rebecca’s much younger brother—the possibly brilliant, impossibly beautiful Ethan (generally known as “Mizzy,” his unplanned birth was a mistake). He’s a recovering drug addict, or perhaps not so recovering, and he has come to stay with them with the vague idea of doing “Something in the Arts.” Ponders Peter of their guest, “It’s hardly beyond understanding, neither the straight A's that led to Yale nor the drugs that led elsewhere.” Peter and Rebecca have a daughter near Mizzy’s age, who feels inexplicable (to Peter) bitterness toward her father. Peter also had a homosexual older brother, long dead, whose memory continues to haunt him. Mizzy might serve as a stand-in for Peter’s brother, for his daughter, even for Peter’s wife (whom he resembles in her younger, prettier days). He might also arouse incestuous feelings in Rebecca. Possibilities resolve themselves amid aesthetic pronouncements on how “a real work of art can be owned but should not be subject to capture” and that it is “something that will tell the world (poor forgetful world) that evanescence is not all.”

“Does America get the art it deserves?” wonders Peter. Or the novel?

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-29908-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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