Interesting subject matter fails to cohere.


Wildgen (You’re Not You, 2006) follows three residents of a Wisconsin sustainable-foods co-op during a blackout.

Greta, a fundraiser for Grinwall College, doesn’t seem like the cooperative-living type, but housemates Karin and Hal accept her, even though she doesn’t cook by the house rules: from scratch with locally grown, organic ingredients. Fit, earthy Karin becomes something of a celebrity in Madison when she rescues a dog mysteriously adrift on Lake Monona. Meanwhile ex-hunter-turned-vegetarian (and closet meat-eater) Hal, who works delivering meals to shut-ins, wallows in worries: his inability to feed his customers as food supplies run short during the blackout, his uneasiness about his widower father’s recent move to a cabin in the woods. To compensate, Hal lavishes attention on needy people. When he overstays his time with Mrs. Bryant, an eccentric elderly woman on his delivery route, it almost costs him his job. He then turns to Greta’s estranged alcoholic husband Will, who passes out on their porch the first night of the blackout. Flooding in distant cities, rising fuel prices, student unrest, bizarre SWAT and military maneuvers, divers searching the lake for a body and a dearth of information on the cause of the extended blackout (which strains believability) contribute to a sense of impending doom. The characters’ impulses to seek out the root causes of these environmental, infrastructural and personal crises go unrealized—which might be the point, or rather nonpoint of Wildgen’s portrait of a Slacker-meets-Gen-X crowd and their wanderings. Everything seems to be moving toward an epiphany that never quite arrives—Karin, for example, realizes that her investment in cooperative living provides no guarantees for the future in an unstable world—and frequent digressions into irrelevant back story further mar the narrative flow. The inevitable love triangle and resultant jealousies, the inconveniences and hazards of a blackout, excursions into drugs and alternative lifestyles—none of it ever manages to gain traction.

Interesting subject matter fails to cohere.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-57141-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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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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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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