A resonant collection of short stories set in rural North Dakota, many of which have previously appeared in literary magazines, that establishes Van Winckel as a talent to be watched. Rising above life's losses emerges as the dominant theme of these interconnected stories, all of which revolve around Martha, an intelligent, sensitive girl, and her family. Throughout the book Martha grows from an observant child with an ability to revel in life's oddities to a grown woman and successful veterinarian who finds happiness in her imperfect world. (``I hear tragedy coming, and I point the way to rescue,'' she says of herself.) In the wistful and tenderly detailed ``Tell That to the River,'' a bizarre boating accident enables Martha to understand her family members' strengths and how they complement one another—on what is their last vacation together. In ``Volunteer,'' Martha, a rebellious teen after her father's death, finds the discipline she needs as a hospital candy striper and becomes interested in healing as she nurtures the sick and dying. In ``Good Riddance,'' Martha, now a young veterinarian who has eschewed a boutique business in favor of caring for area livestock, delivers a baby lamb and struggles to overcome the stereotype that only men can handle rough farm work. Other stories, like ``Apprentice'' and ``Gone Fingers,'' do not advance the plot as much as they provide the memorable characters (the dotty weaver who lives next door and wins a lottery, and Martha's stepfather, who is missing several fingers) and sensitive observations that make this collection so affecting. While some of her stories are uneven and others do not follow one another smoothly, Van Winckel's thoughtful writing and evocative details redeem the flaws in this impressive debut.

Pub Date: June 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8262-0922-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Univ. of Missouri

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1994

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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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