Pleasantly quirky first novel: its appealing lack of gravitas makes it far easier to take seriously than your standard...

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MOTHER COUNTRY

Young orphan comes of age (with remarkable aplomb and lightheartedness) in 1950 Nevada.

Mala Talovich seems somewhat baffled by the pity of others, since she certainly doesn’t feel very sorry for herself. At 13, she has lived practically all her life with her grandmother, who emigrated to America from Serbia, settled in the mining town of Taylor, Nevada, and raised eight children there. Mala’s father died in combat during WWII and is spoken of with pride and affection by his survivors; her mother, rather ominously, is hardly ever mentioned by anyone. Taylor is a close-knit little town full of Eastern European immigrants (many of them widows of miners killed in accidents or dead of lung disease), and Mala becomes a sort of communal responsibility when her grandmother dies suddenly one June night. Although her aunt Anna takes formal custody of her, she stays in her grandmother’s house in the care of her 18-year-old cousin Josie. But she’s basically raised by the town. Like much of Nevada, Taylor is more than vaguely disreputable (one of the local sheriffs was a Mormon who sold moonshine and died in a bordello), but for Mala it’s a warm, familial place filled with decent odd people (like Naked Sal, the town nudist, or the Methodist-Minister-Without-a-Flock) who manage well together and probably wouldn’t have made it anywhere else. That begins to change, however, when a new sheriff tries to impose his own idea of order. For Mala, the tensions of that summer heighten her awareness of how her own life has changed—and must change still more.

Pleasantly quirky first novel: its appealing lack of gravitas makes it far easier to take seriously than your standard (angst-ridden) coming-of-ager.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-57962-095-7

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL

Cartoonist Collins’ debut graphic novel is a long, smooth fable of a man whose unkempt facial hair ravages the tidy city of Here.

Here sits on an island, surrounded by the sea, separated from the far-off land of There. And whereas Here is all row houses and trimmed trees and clean cheeks, There is a dark, disordered place that would mix your insides with your outsides, your befores with your nows with your nexts—unpleasant business brilliantly depicted in panels breaking across a single body as it succumbs to chaos. So the people of Here live quiet, fastidious lives, their backs to the sea, and neighbor Dave delights in doodling it all from his window as he listens to the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” on repeat. But an irregular report at his inscrutable office job triggers the single hair that has always curved from Dave’s upper lip to be suddenly joined by a burst of follicles. Try as Dave might, his unruly beard won’t stop pouring from his face in a tangled flood—and soon it threatens the very fabric of life in Here. Collins’ illustrations are lush, rounded affairs with voluptuous shading across oblong planes. Expressions pop, from the severe upturn where a sympathetic psychiatrist’s brows meet to the befuddlement of a schoolgirl as the beard’s hypnotic powers take hold. With its archetypical conflict and deliberate dissection of language, the story seems aimed at delivering a moral, but the tale ultimately throws its aesthetics into abstraction rather than didacticism. The result rings a little hollow but goes down smooth.

Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-05039-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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