THE BLACK ENVELOPE

With prose that's alternately tough and tender (Dashiell Hammett meets Rilke), as well as downright wacky, Romanian ÇmigrÇ Manea (Compulsory Happiness, 1993, etc.) offers another of his dense and often caustic views of modern eastern Europe. No one would dispute Manea's skill as a wordsmith—to do so with lines like ``The suspect sun is called Thursday. Still a century to go until Friday'' would be to join the same orchestra of folly that many of his characters play for. But one could easily fault him for laying the metaphors on too thick. It's endlessly difficult here to figure out what's standing in for what. Bucharest, in the throes of a ``happy spring,'' finds Tolea Voinov struggling with a web of vague conspiracy and lingering communist paranoia. Fired from his teaching job, Tolea is working as a receptionist at a hotel while investigating the suspicious death of his father—a Sorbonne-educated philosopher who fled Bucharest with his extensive wine cellar 40 years earlier. The wildly outspoken Tolea becomes more meditative as the novel wears on, and he familiarizes himself with the odd collection of cosmopolitan shut-ins who'll lead him to the photographer whose albums may provide the key to his puzzles. First, however, he must contend with a secret society of deaf-mutes that issues periodic, cryptic reports on his progress. In the classic Stanislaw Lem fashion of Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, Manea formulates Tolea's struggle as one pitted against an obsessive, anonymous bureaucracy bent on ensuring that ``nothing gets lost: everything is transformed— signs, substitutes, and invisible networks.'' None of this, though, prevents Tolea from participating in one of fiction's zestier sex scenes, during which he pumps ``the lava of the fiery night'' into a woman who asks him for a match. Nothing new, but the telling is handled in such a preposterously slippery way that it frequently seems so.

Pub Date: June 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-374-11397-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1995

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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