An ever-so-gentle coming-of-age story—a saccharine Last Picture Show—that almost smothers the evident talent of its author in an overdose of pop culture. At 24, Gilbert Grape is the sentimental favorite in Endora, Iowa, a good boy still bagging groceries in the local market. But he's not happy: he's mired in an affair with the insurance agent's wife, and outraged by the supermarket chains and burger franchises that are devouring Endora's soul, as well as the loyalties of Gilbert's friends. Most of all, Gilbert hates being put-upon by his grotesquely mediocre family: fat Momma, who eats and sleeps in her chair by the TV; saintly Amy, who's given up everything for Momma except her Elvis fetish; insufferable Ellen, a typically self-involved teenager; Larry, the vanished brother; Janice, the psychologist-cum-stewardess. The only gem in the lot is Arnie—the retarded brother whose 18th birthday is approaching—and who functions both as plot device and provider of tear-jerking dialogue. Every time Arnie does something retarded, like hiding in the town water tower or disrupting a parade, Gilbert bails him out. He enjoys playing the white knight, but as Becky, the new girl in town, intuits, Gilbert has yet to learn Life's Deeper Lessons—such as how to say goodbye, how to love, and how to cry. Suffice it to say, he does all three things by the end of this tale. But despite Arnie's eventful birthday, Momma's expiration, and her cremation in the hated family house, there's hardly any serious effect on the reader's emotions or intellect. Too predictable and too dependent on pop culture to achieve indelibility—but a first novel that does manage to impress with its playwright author's sense of form and craft. Hedges turns a nice phrase; in fact, all that's lacking here are content and nerve.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-671-73509-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1991

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


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.


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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