A slim novella that—like the author's story collection (Stripping, 1993)—chronicles the dramatic loss of innocence of its female lead: Here, the narrator and her sister take to the road, though not quite in the manner of Thelma and Louise. Doris and Fran, whose memoir this is, are 30-ish ``spinsters- in-training'' who live comfortably in small-town New Hampshire circa 1968. Having attended their father until his recent death, they've existed in a historical and social vacuum. Now, when Doris convinces Fran to visit their widowed aunt in Virginia, the two discover en route that ``the whole world had grown young.'' Doris literally lets down her hair and gets into the groove of the times, but Fran clings to what she has known—which isn't much. Jilted in her one chaste romance by a dull librarian, she eventually entertains the wildness within her. In Memphis, where they've gone to visit another relative, she reluctantly dyes her hair, abandons her smart suits for a contemporary frock, and decides with Doris to drive on. Joining them are their young, immature niece and her brooding boyfriend, an 18-year-old headed for college but afraid of the draft. Fran spends some time recounting her history of sexual fear and repression; she also dwells on her dead parents: the mother a possible suicide, the father an unfashionable conscientious objector in WW II who later regretted his decision. When Fran's pent-up desire bubbles over, it does so with a vengeance, though not quite enough so to match the sexual revolution going on around her. Kennedy's historical context, telegraphed with newspaper headlines and TV in the background, overdetermines the events here, limiting the sense of authenticity in an intendedly naturalistic book. And Fran's faux-naãf voice is at times jarringly worldly, creating an unwanted tonal dissonance. In short: a deeply flawed, if admirable, first novel.

Pub Date: June 26, 1995

ISBN: 1-85242-405-2

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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