AN OCEAN IN IOWA

In his carefully understated way, Hedges follows up What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1991) with a boy’s tale of quiet desperation when his artist mother suddenly abandons him and his sisters to find herself. Joan Ocean didn’t plan to leave her family in West Glen, Iowa, in 1969; but after her latest show of nude self-portraits met with a chilly reception, it just happened that way. Scotty, her seven-year-old youngster, doesn’t quite know how it will all turn out, but he’s certain that it’s all his fault. He turns inward but still does his share of the chores, helping his sister with laundry, and his father the Judge with dinner and the dishes. Joan, who has begun drinking heavily, returns for Christmas, raising everyone’s hopes, but she makes it clear that she doesn’t want to live with the family anymore, and Scotty finds himself truly at sea. He looks for a substitute for Joan in the pretty mother of a second-grade classmate, but when he crawls under the covers with her during a sleepover, that possibility is eliminated. He acts up in class, wearing for days a football helmet he received for Christmas, runs amok through school when he realizes a visiting artist has lied to them about the color of mountains; and, finally, when Joan is arrested for drunk driving, reduces a vulnerable, trusting classmate to tears by telling her that his mother is going to be executed. None of this brings Joan back, of course, so Scotty decides he’s going to stay seven forever, and on the eve of his next birthday he makes use of a grenade, which a neighbor, an ex-soldier, brought back from Vietnam, to keep his pledge. The child’s-eye view is finely done, but its limitations are also apparent, as Scotty’s world, family, and friends seem at critical moments to be not just imperfect but insubstantial. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 6, 1998

ISBN: 0-7868-6404-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1998

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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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