Thomas is a talented observer of how people interact and what dire financial straits feels like, but he’s packed more than a...

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MAN GONE DOWN

One man’s desperate scramble for cash, shaped into an outsized metaphorical novel on race, class and other American tensions.

The 35-year-old narrator of Thomas’s debut novel is a man of many talents: He’s taught college English, worked construction and played guitar in clubs, all while conquering alcoholism and starting a family in Brooklyn. And as his story begins, all he’s got to show for it is bupkus: Both he and his wife are out of work, and he has four days to scare up the five figures necessary to land a new apartment and cover the tuition for his sons’ private school. That struggle gives this tale its narrative arc, but Thomas spends much of his time meditating on the past of his hero, who identifies as black (though he also claims Irish and Native American blood) and ponders how much race has both supported and oppressed him. It’s an ambitious idea—with some obvious parallels to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man—and the book is filled with some virtuoso passages that expose the subtle degrees of racism in the narrator’s world. The relatives of his wife, who is white, are condescending without being aware of it; a day-labor site turns into a proving ground between him and his Latino coworkers; and the climactic scenes on a country-club golf course detail a few unspoken moral compromises that blacks and whites make to get along with one another. It’s to Thomas’s credit that he takes care to not compress his scenes into simplistic parables about race, but the book’s breadth is more sprawling than ambitious. The reader is presented with so many characters—in-laws, parents, friends, drinking buddies, teachers, folks from the neighborhood—that it all ultimately feels more like a fuzzy satellite photo of Brooklyn than a clear portrait of a single person.

Thomas is a talented observer of how people interact and what dire financial straits feels like, but he’s packed more than a couple books’ worth of observations into one.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-8021-7029-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2006

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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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/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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