n imaginative but unconvincing satire about presidential candidates.

The Man without Qualities

A satirical novel tells the story of a man whose modest social experiment becomes a major political movement.

At 70 years old, George Haskel has just retired from a lifetime of teaching German literature. An American since the age of 5, George nevertheless still finds the United States and its people incomprehensible: a nation in the constant pursuit of money, celebrity, and a vague desire to be found interesting. He devises a plan: “So when I retired, it struck me that it might be fun, in a kind of screwy way, to construct a story about myself as an infinitely dull person, and see what would happen if I were to interact with other people on that basis.” After a trial run leads to a sexual encounter in Mexico, George decides to go after bigger fish: the presidential candidates running for office in America. He manages to disrupt a Hillary Clinton rally, asking the room: why bother? The crowd turns on the candidate, and she undergoes a meltdown that ends her political career. George than embarks on forming the Dullness Institute, an organization that attracts millions of members, including a cadre of celebrity patrons like Susan Sarandon, Philip Roth, and Bill Maher, and sets his sights on the White House. The title references the unfinished Robert Musil novel of the same name, a favorite of George’s that the reader catches him reading from time to time. Berman (Coming to Our Senses, 2015, etc.), a talented writer, creates an attractive comic tone that carries the reader along. Even so, the author’s satire isn’t as biting as he wants it to be. It isn’t that he pulls punches—he doesn’t—but his central political complaint (“What can any candidate do for us at this point in American history?”) fails to convince the reader, particularly in the midst of an election when the various candidates are distinct from one another in terms of philosophy, platform, and personality. Furthermore, while George represents many things— contrarianism, fatalism, apathy, disdain—dullness isn’t one of them, which undermines Berman’s whole conceit. The author’s diagnosis of society feels simplistic; his prescription for its improvement remains unclear.

n imaginative but unconvincing satire about presidential candidates.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9883343-5-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: The Oliver Arts & Open Press

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2016

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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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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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