This chilling and layered story of obsession succeeds both as a moody period piece and as an effective and memorable homage...

THE PORT-WINE STAIN

Doppelgängers, literary intrigue, unhealthy obsessions, and a secret society of the death-obsessed menace a young man in this novel of 1840s Philadelphia.

Lock’s novel is structured as a long remembrance told by an aging doctor, Edward Fenzil, working in Camden, New Jersey, in 1876. The story he tells is about his life in Philadelphia 32 years earlier, when he worked as an assistant to Thomas Dent Mütter, a surgeon fond of medical oddities, and became acquainted with Edgar Allan Poe. Gradually, Poe initiates Fenzil into an subculture of people who work with death. Fenzil’s mind begins to fray as he becomes fixated, first on Poe and then on his newly discovered doppelgänger. Both the presence of Poe and the fact that this is a long monologue by a not-necessarily-reliable narrator add an abundance of tension to the proceedings. Occasionally, the tone becomes dreamlike, as in a story told by a cohort of Poe’s about the fate that befell the captain of a slave ship. This is the third in Lock’s American Novels series: works that harken back to 19th-century history and culture. Each is self-contained, though readers of Lock’s earlier American Meteor (2015) will note that the “Moran” to whom this novel is told is that novel’s protagonist. (This book’s chilling final sentence has a secondary meaning for those who have read its predecessor.) Beyond the presence of Poe, other literary figures hover on the book’s margins—the framing story includes several mentions of Walt Whitman, and in his acknowledgements, Lock notes the influence of John Berryman’s Dream Songs on one structural aspect of the novel.

This chilling and layered story of obsession succeeds both as a moody period piece and as an effective and memorable homage to the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-942658-06-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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