From Theroux's lighter side: an all-American magician-as-Messiah fable that owes less to Elmer Gantry than to Tono-Bungay. When Jilly Farina, a 14-year-old waif from Marstons Mills, first sees Millroy the magician performing at Foskett's Funfair, it's codependency at first sight: Millroy, sweeping the girl along on his travels, provides her with a stability her minimal family life has lacked, and she gives him a sense of vocation he's never had. Jilly realizes early on that Millroy, who dresses her up as his adopted son Alex, is the real thing: a magician who knows the difference between tricky illusions and genuine magic, and who's mastered them both. ``Magic isn't an accident...It's good health,'' he tells her, and soon he's preaching his gospel of ``laxatives, Scriptures, and weight control'' on a segment of a Boston children's TV show, Paradise Park, and leaving a mike open long enough for beloved Paradise Park host Mister Phyllis to reveal to his network audience just how much he really loves children. Installed as host of the series himself, Millroy turns control of the show over to a bunch of kids, who send the ratings soaring before their frank discussion of Christmas and digestion causes its cancellation. Nothing daunted, Millroy fights off sponsorship offers from all manner of sleazy food-industry agents long enough to launch a string of high-fiber vegetarian diners based on the proposition that ``the Book will make you regular and grant you longevity.'' But the shadows lengthen: legal challenges mount up; Jilly feels Millroy withdrawing from her; and when a longtime acquaintance fills her in on Millroy's past, she lights off on her own—but is reunited with him just in time for an ambiguous apotheosis. Theroux's satire—waggish, broad, ambitious, spotty—keeps all the characters but Millroy and Jilly at a cool distance, and the relationship between them isn't nearly as engaging as it's apparently meant to be. Even fans may find themselves glancing at their watches.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-40247-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1993

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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