Fast, funny, and surprisingly fresh: Wall’s doings manage even to overshadow their author’s dependence on one-liners (“How...

THE ROCK ORCHARD

A good-natured debut novel by Wall (If I Were a Man, I’d Marry Me, not reviewed), who offers a comic portrait of small-town life in the South.

Lacking much in the way of distractions, the townsfolk of Leaper’s Fork, Tennessee, have nothing much to preoccupy themselves except for each other—so it’s a good thing that most of the locals are oddballs and characters worthy of Carl Reiner or Erskine Caldwell. Foremost among these are the Belle women, five generations of floozies who have managed down the years to amass one of the largest fortunes in the region without ever (or often) stooping to marriage. Musette, the matriarch of the clan, survives to this day in the form of the nude statue she posed for, which sits atop her grave. Her granddaughter Charlotte, technically a spinster though far from a virgin, is a hardheaded businesswoman who makes a rare indulgence into sentimentality by adopting her late sister’s daughter Angela. As feral as a wildcat, the slatternly Angela has an innate gift for striking men dumb with desire in spite of her unwashed clothes and stringy, matted hair. One of her most hopeless victims is Adam Montgomery, a young doctor from Boston who moved to Leaper’s Fork to set up his practice. Unhappily married, Adam feels guilty about his obsession with Angela—but he’d feel better if he knew that his prim wife, Lydia, was carrying on with a local handyman who seems to find a lot to work on at her house. And when the new minister is seduced in the graveyard by one of the Belles, the entire balance of power seems set to shift in town.

Fast, funny, and surprisingly fresh: Wall’s doings manage even to overshadow their author’s dependence on one-liners (“How she stayed in the missionary position long enough to get pregnant was a mystery”) and draw the reader into her very strange and hilarious world.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2005

ISBN: 0-7434-9620-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2004

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

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.

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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