the Limbic Highway


In McInerney’s debut sci-fi novel, the spirit of Benjamin Franklin teaches a young man how to cleanse his neighbors’ psyches of “evil bulges.”
College student Jake undergoes a near-death experience after a local bully drugs his drink. In his subsequent dream, a man named Oswaldo arrives on a “magic-carpet-like platform” to whisk Jake away to purgatory, where none other than Benjamin Franklin is waiting to show him around. McInerney’s overly complex metaphysical netherworld includes guardian angels, who access humans through a “Limbic Highway” to their brains. It turns out that the souls in purgatory, Franklin included, have big plans for Jake in their quest to defeat evil. They plan to use a Mobile Cleansing Unit, or M-C-U (one of the novel’s many acronyms), to eradicate dreaded “evil bulges,” which “evil barbs” create in people’s minds. Franklin shows Jake the ropes on how to destroy the bulges; in future dreams, Jake returns to help the cause, entering his neighbors’ dreams in Magic School Bus–like adventures to clean evil from their neural pools. When Jake isn’t going after evil, however, he lives a sheltered life—one so uneventful that McInerney manages to find space in this short novel for Jake to comment on the weather: “If it is one thing I cannot handle, it’s humidity. There is no solution when you’re in it, except to get out of it.” The novel offers an intriguing take on the afterlife that has potential. However, it suffers from a lack of conflict; it only takes a bit of extra firepower to dispatch the evil bulges, for example, and few characters are developed enough to contain conflicts beyond their supposed moral failings. A teenage girl named Tina, for example, is said to have been “snowed over by her family so often, that she ignores the ramifications of an unplanned pregnancy, and believes that premarital sex is acceptable.” Few passages in the book allow readers to make their own judgments about the characters’ actions, and even fewer attempt to explain its strange mythology.
A compelling idea for a novel that suffers from bizarre worldbuilding, a slight plot and underdeveloped characters.

Pub Date: April 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-0982468500

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Saunal Publishing Inc.

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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