Cascades of absurdist, knowing nonsense about the writing profession.

THE HOUSE OF WRITERS

After societal, economic, and technological collapse rocks Britain, authors stubbornly ply their (mostly obsolete) trade crammed into a high-rise in the north.

In this debut novel, set in the mid-21st century, digital culture has proved ruinous for writers.  First, publishers dictated that only the simplest, bottom-line pablum be produced. Second, a socioeconomic meltdown, precipitated by widespread tech failures (bad screws in the motherboard cooling fans), left Britain a wasteland, roamed by artificial intelligence appliances gone feral and starving digi-pets. While the principal economy and infrastructure center on the lone surviving big business, a Scottish call center (itself just a minor subsidiary of a U.S.-based, Rupert Murdoch-like multinational), authors stubbornly pursue their craft and egos in a communal high-rise, sometimes for just a couple of paying readers. Cal McIntyre, a narrator perpetually working—or not—on a “meta-novel” called The House of Writers, compiles formidable lists of silly, nonexistent books and offers a tour of the building, with different genres on each floor. There are name-dropping details of a “Farewell Authors Conference”; lists of fictitious sexual positions; descriptions of flash-in-the-pan literary movements seeking relevance (the gender-bending Anti-cis-heteronormativists); and entire catalog entries oriented toward Scottish shortbread. Real-life, dust-jacket celebrities (Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling, Jodi Picoult, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen, graphic designer Chip Kidd) blend with the invented scribblers and cranks, who still follow their muses and remain vain and self-centered loons, despite conditions wherein their products serve practically no purpose. Comedian and writer Spike Milligan would certainly approve of Glasgow author Nicholls’ novel, a piece of literary goonery (or, to Yanks, Monty Pythonism) that lacks a particularly strong plot. As with Monty Python and The Goon Show, the audience either gets the dense barrages of absurdist humor or not. At one point, Jesus even returns, but, after being largely ignored by House of Writers occupants, the Savior departs, leaving an angry, obscene note behind (though Cal theorizes the message could have been one author’s idea of a practical joke). The encouraging theme beneath the satire seems to be that, no matter what, writers and writing (and all the attendant aggravations and pretensions) will persist. Perhaps Cal’s meta-novel will turn out to be the Best Book That Ever Existed. 

Cascades of absurdist, knowing nonsense about the writing profession. 

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-944697-06-8

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2017

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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