Affecting and inventively funny despite its cumbersome length.



An alcoholic confronts a work crisis and the sting of loneliness in this debut novel.

Heald Brown works at the Chicago Regional Census Center in a secretive division called the Census Coverage Measurement, devoted to meticulously gathering and zealously protecting data about the city’s population. One day, he comes into work to learn that 37 pages of the most sensitive, classified information—specifically protected by a regulation called Title 13—has mysteriously gone missing. Deputy Director Elina Flohard declares a state of emergency, intemperately warning that such a security breach could presage the very dissolution of society, and author Ferro humorously captures her hyperbolic alarmism. Soon after, Heald’s immediate boss, manager Gilbert Tabin, inexplicably disappears after a meeting with Flohard, leading some to believe he was shoved down a laundry chute. Meanwhile, Heald grapples with a claustrophobic, solitary existence, which he somewhat numbs with out-of-control alcohol consumption. He also falls madly in love with co-worker Janice Torres, but both his addiction and his inclination toward privacy frustrate hopes of romantic success. Then his grandmother is badly injured in a car accident and subsequently diagnosed with cancer, compelling him to re-examine his life of unfulfilled promise and solipsistic desperation. Ferro’s work is an eclectic mélange of parts—some farcically absurd and others more sober. For example, in one poignant moment, poetically expressed, Heald, while comforting his dying grandmother, wonders about the possibility of an afterlife: “Once she was gone, that would be it, and there would be no report from the other side—no telegraph or wire call from an ocean liner on the other side of world to let the others back at port know it had safely made passage.” However, the plot’s pace is enormously slow, and it often gets sidetracked by narrative detours that unnecessarily add to the book’s page count. Also, the author’s pastiche of styles, while impressive, can be disorienting as it juxtaposes the manically satirical with the quotidian. Still, there are flashes of comic inspiration, and Heald is a deftly drawn protagonist.

Affecting and inventively funny despite its cumbersome length.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-941861-46-2

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Harvard Square Editions

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2017

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Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...


Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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