The author’s characteristic obsessiveness and attention to minutiae will appeal mainly to those who know and care as much...

THE ANTHOLOGIST

Novelist/polemicist Baker (Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, 2008, etc.) takes a nullity as a protagonist.

Narrator Paul Chowder is a published poet of more renown than many. He has accepted a commission to compile and write the introduction for an anthology of rhymed verse entitled—perhaps with a nod toward E.M. Forster—Only Rhyme. Otherwise, Paul is defined by the nothingness of his life. Though the novel initially appears to concern his attempt to write the anthology introduction, it ultimately exhausts most of its narrative on his avoidance of writing it. Paul’s editor sends him threatening e-mails. His devoted girlfriend of eight years leaves him, exasperated. He can’t quite let her go, but he also can’t quite make himself write, or even start, that introduction. Instead, he cleans his office. He attempts to trap a mouse—ambivalently, for the rodent has become his major companion. He lays a floor for his neighbor. And he thinks so much about poetry and poets that it’s clear he could write the introduction at any point, if only he could find the proper tone and format. (He thinks maybe three or four sentences could pass, but the intro could just as easily balloon to more than 200 pages.) Despite his matter-of-fact composure and the chatty tone of his narrative, Paul is always on the verge of breaking down. He rails against the standard elevation of iambic pentameter in the poetic pantheon and builds his case for the four-beat line as all-American meter. He thinks of poets in an oddly chummy manner and holds imaginary conversations with the likes of “Ted” Roethke (“Whoa, Ted…Sounds a little like Dr. Seuss, except dark”). He reveals that he previously worked for a mutual fund and fled teaching in the middle of a semester, before turning to writing poetry—or not writing poetry, or not writing about poetry—full time.

The author’s characteristic obsessiveness and attention to minutiae will appeal mainly to those who know and care as much about poetry as Paul.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4165-7244-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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