Exquisite work from a most unusual master craftsman who’s one of his continent’s finest writers.



Kitchen-sink realism and fantastic hyperbole are skillfully blended in this entertaining collection of 14 stories by the Australian author of the highly praised Eucalyptus (1998), etc.

Most of the briefer stories, which suggest a cross between Orwell and Kafka, focus on eccentrics and obsessives at odds with either domestic complacency or bureaucratic imperatives—and, generally, those spun from the more bizarre premises work best. For example, in “Life of the Party,” a suburbanite hiding in his son’s tree house spies on neighbors he’s invited to a nonexistent barbecue; “Portrait of Electricity” takes the form of a tour of a museum memorializing a deceased “great man”; and the smalltime investor in “ore” is physically transformed (literally) by his avarice and finickiness. A darker note is struck in “The Drover’s Wife,” narrated by a dentist whose wife had left him 30 years earlier, and who “finds” her again, as the subject of a vividly realistic painting—which reveals, as do his ingenuous memories of her, an irrepressible spirit unforgivably stifled by his own prudishness and dullness. The best of the longer tales include “Huebler,” an amusing fable whose eponymous protagonist aspires to photograph every living human; and “The Seduction of My Sister,” whose unnamed narrator describes his adventure with another teenaged boy, tossing old phonograph records over a rooftop, then catching them as they fall. The “game” escalates, including ever-bulkier objects (and becoming a perfect metaphor for adolescent bravado, rebelliousness, and emergent sexuality), as the story moves surely toward its memorable magical-realist ending. Even better is “Camouflage,” the tale of a passive, self-effacing piano tuner who is drafted into the Australian Army in 1943, and finds muted fulfillment in a menial task that is, in its way, a rudimentary “art.” It’s a wonderful story, reminiscent of Bernard Malamud at his most inspired.

Exquisite work from a most unusual master craftsman who’s one of his continent’s finest writers.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-11827-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2002

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.


Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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