Australian newcomer Wilder offers a pocketful of stories that read by and large like apprentice pieces culled, say, mainly from writer-to-be student days. ``Beach Report'' is a word-sprightly satire in the manner of Barthelme, about a TV-jaded society whose members are happy to have their thinking taken over for them by visitors in flying saucers; ``The Vampire's Assistant at the 157 Steps'' (a maker of cheap movies overstays his welcome in a friend's cliff-house) follows in the sometimes revelatory real-is-surreal path; and what may be the best piece in the book (``The West Midland Underground'') creates a pensive collage of self and place and history as its narrator contemplates a legendary rail system. Nods in the direction of science fiction, though, end up as self-limiting exercises, as in ``The Man of Slow Feeling'' (a man finds that his sense-responses are delayed for three hours after any stimulus) and ``See You Later'' (another sees things only from a point 200 years too early in time). ``The Girl Behind the Bar is Reading Jack Kerouac'' is a slight story that eats its own tail, as the reader of a girl's stories gets drawn into a reenactment with her of the sexual events she's predicted-created in them. ``Joe's Absence'' overprepares its way to its jejune and unconvincing point that a young man is more interested in a sneak-peek at a writer-friend's stories than in a chance with the writer-friend's girl; ``Hector and Freddie'' chronicles the sexual confusions of two repressed Oxford students, trying for thematic height and sexual candor but hitting short of the first and generally trivializing the second; and the callow and undergraduate-toned ``Aspects of the Dying Process,'' about sex and unrequited love among the very young, takes itself seriously in a way its people and material simply can't sustain (`` `How do you get your jeans faded like that?' he asked her''). Deeply uneven, wanting more time to age. The title story, by the way, in case you're wondering, is an ironic little one-pager, deliberately flat as a pancake.

Pub Date: July 22, 1991

ISBN: 0-393-30785-9

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1991

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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