Too bad the switch from empathetic protagonist into villain is not quite believable, because until then Iago and Emilia are...

I, IAGO

Galland (Crossed, 2008, etc.) takes on one of literature’s greatest villains and tries to make him sympathetic.

For a large part of the novel—until the introduction of Othello when events from Shakespeare’s play take over—she succeeds. As the fifth son of a Venetian silk merchant, Iago has limited prospects. His precociousness and his growing reputation for blunt honesty don’t help in a society where insipid, phony etiquette is prized if not required. He spends his childhood getting into mild scrapes with his poorer, weaker friend Roderigo, whom he is always protecting, before his father enrolls him in the military. There he finds himself and excels. He meets Emilia at a Venetian masked ball and falls in love with her wit and intelligence even before he learns she is beautiful. Despite Iago’s bouts of jealousy, theirs is a marriage of soul mates. Emilia remains his (and the novel’s) heart and conscience to the end. Meanwhile the Moor Othello has been named General by the Venetian senate. When Othello and Iago meet at a ball, they immediately connect, recognizing that they are both outsiders who don’t really want to fit into society, Iago for his mouth and Othello for his black skin. Othello makes Iago his ensign, an important promotion. After the battle at Rhodes, Othello suffers an epileptic fit and Iago covers for him. So when Othello falls for Desdemona, Iago is understandably hurt and jealous that he is left out of the loop as the romance develops with Emilia’s help. Then an alcoholic, womanizing fop from Florence shows up; Cassio lacks Iago’s military skills but because he carries secret letters between the general and Desdemona he gets the lieutenancy that should go to Iago. Resentment turns the love Iago has felt for Othello into hate. Although Iago doesn’t really mean to kill anyone, he’s not good at intrigue. Familiar Shakespearean tragedy ensues.

Too bad the switch from empathetic protagonist into villain is not quite believable, because until then Iago and Emilia are magic. 

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-212687-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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