“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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Read this for insights about writing, about losing one’s mother, about dealing with a cranky sous-chef and a difficult...

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WRITERS & LOVERS

A Boston-area waitress manages debt, grief, medical troubles, and romantic complications as she finishes her novel.

“There are so many things I can’t think about in order to write in the morning,” Casey explains at the opening of King’s (Euphoria, 2014, etc.) latest. The top three are her mother’s recent death, her crushing student loans, and the married poet she recently had a steaming-hot affair with at a writer’s colony. But having seen all but one of her writer friends give up on the dream, 31-year-old Casey is determined to stick it out. After those morning hours at her desk in her teensy garage apartment, she rides her banana bike to work at a restaurant in Harvard Square—a setting the author evokes in delicious detail, recalling Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, though with a lighter touch. Casey has no sooner resolved to forget the infidel poet than a few more writers show up on her romantic radar. She rejects a guy at a party who reveals he’s only written 11 1/2 pages in three years—“That kind of thing is contagious”—to find herself torn between a widowed novelist with two young sons and a guy with an irresistible broken tooth from the novelist's workshop. Casey was one of the top two golfers in the country when she was 14, and the mystery of why she gave up the sport altogether is entangled with the mystery of her estrangement from her father, the latter theme familiar from King’s earlier work. In fact, with its young protagonist, its love triangle, and its focus on literary ambition, this charmingly written coming-of-age story would be an impressive debut novel. But after the originality and impact of Euphoria, it might feel a bit slight.

Read this for insights about writing, about losing one’s mother, about dealing with a cranky sous-chef and a difficult four-top.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4853-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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