Ultimately, and lamentably, we wind up not caring about Spooner’s fate.

SPOONER

From Dexter (Train, 2003, etc.), a rambling, improvisatory narrative of a not-terribly-compelling life.

Warren Spooner arrives in unpromising circumstances, after his mother labored for 53 hours and his “better-looking” twin brother was born dead. On the very same day (Dec. 6, 1956), Congressman Rudolph Toebox coincidentally and conveniently dies, leading to an embarrassing sendoff at sea when his coffin refuses to sink. The two stories cross briefly because the commander in charge of the abortive burial at sea is Calmer Ottosson, who eventually becomes Spooner’s stepfather. Throughout the novel, Dexter traces the many stages of Spooner’s development. For example, he has to deal with his much more talented step-siblings, like prodigy Darrow (named after the lawyer), who learns both to read and to play chess while practically in the womb. In contrast, Spooner’s talent, such as it is, is to piss in people’s shoes and to confound the deputy with this anonymous crime. Spooner becomes an indifferent student but, unaccountably, a talented baseball player—until his promise crashes with an injury to his elbow. He then becomes a reporter, again with mixed results. Along the way we witness the uneasy relationship between Calmer, who becomes a teacher when mustered out of the Navy—and later has to investigate a scandal involving remedial students in his school system scoring at the 97th and 98th percentiles on standardized tests—and his stepson, who never experiences much success in anything. Dexter’s technique is to roam around his narrative at a leisurely pace, multiplying incidents until the episodic ultimately devolves into the disorganized. And his ham-fisted comic approach involves such hilarity as the aforementioned shoe-pissing and constantly nudging the reader in the ribs in delight at his own cleverness, coining names such as Dr. C. Elmer Cowhurl and the aforementioned Toebox.

Ultimately, and lamentably, we wind up not caring about Spooner’s fate.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54072-8

Page Count: 470

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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