An inventive farce waylaid by excessive absurdity and a sprawling cast.


Starkman’s (Great Places to Learn, 2006, etc.) debut novel features a postal carrier named Cleve and a coterie of eccentric neighbors who attempt to solve a series of bizarre local mysteries.

There is no normalcy in Eaton; the small Midwestern town is overrun with the most eccentric of eccentrics, including an octogenarian who trains her dogs to make tea and a corrupt, diminutive mayor whose quarterly parties would make Pope Alexander VI blush. There is, however, a relative status quo in Eaton, which is disrupted when an absurd foreign conflict divides the town, and a sniper seems bent on snuffing out its letter carriers. Cleve’s levelheaded investigation into these dramas form the crux of the novel, and from it unfolds some rather sharp observations about civil responsibility, small-town prejudices and the widespread jingoism that results from U.S. military campaigns. It is in these allegorical moments that the rollicking plot finds its stride and comes closest to justifying its large, zany cast. Yet, as Cleve digs deeper into some shady connections, the once-enjoyable eccentricities of the cast and the oddities of their town begin to distract as much as they delight. Starkman is overly attentive to minor characters and relies on unnatural exposition, testing readers’ patience in the novel’s second half. This unfortunately makes waste of some great dialogue and distracts from what should have been the novel’s best asset: Eaton and its people. When Cleve finally connects the dots, readers might think that the author is stretching to do the same considering the many digressions of the novel and its bloated cast. At its heart, this is a whimsical and funny novel with the potential to both amuse readers with wild characters and to keep them intrigued with an inventive plot. Unfortunately, the two amusements often seem mutually exclusive, as the comedy bounds between local laughs and global happenings without finding a good regional balance.

An inventive farce waylaid by excessive absurdity and a sprawling cast. 

Pub Date: Dec. 24, 2011

ISBN: 978-1467992305

Page Count: 276

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?


Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet