Plodding, dull, and unappealing: a bad start.


A first novel, loosely based on actual events from the late 1980s, describing the confusions and travails of a young Italian-American from Brooklyn implicated in the murder of a black man.

Bensonhurst in 1989 (i.e., the pre-Giuliani era) was trying hard to remain what it had always been: a quiet backwater of Brooklyn, of little interest to anyone who did not already live there. Tony Santangelo, born and raised in Bensonhurst, was a true neighborhood boy with all the proper loyalties, but he succeeded nevertheless in nearly destroying the place by bringing in the one thing his neighbors could not tolerate: publicity. Tony took part in the fatal beating of a young black, an act so apparently wanton and unprovoked that it attracted international attention and set off a veritable invasion of protest marches and rallies. After serving five years in jail for the crime, Tony came back to Brooklyn and took a job as a security clerk. His story seesaws back and forth in time for ten years, beginning in 1989, but the fulcrum of the tale is the night of the slaying, even if the narration is episodic and somewhat rambling. We learn that Tony once had a black girlfriend, we are treated to descriptions of backseat orgies and depraved bachelor parties, and we find casual references to the neighborhood wiseguys who are part of the local terrain. Tony’s grandmother Vera likes to cook and spends a lot of time in church. Tony’s grandfather Val is a Giants fan. Tony’s father Gino isn’t around very much. A suspicious-looking black man with a tattoo on his neck seems to be stalking Tony after his release from prison. What does it all add up to? Well might one ask, especially as the whole undertaking is narrated in the sort of workshop prose (“Cars passed on the highway above: the rhythm of tires rolling over grids in the road; for a brief moment, through an open car window, music”) that seems intent on making as few points as possible.

Plodding, dull, and unappealing: a bad start.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-893956-21-0

Page Count: 226

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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