PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT

There are two voices in Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth's quasi-autobiographical tour de force, though both voices are the voices of the hero. The truer one is best represented by the remarkable section called "Jewish Blues." Here the theme is adolescent rage, middle class New Jersey misery, and filial ambivalence ("a Jewish man with parents alive is a 15-year-old boy, and will remain a 15-year-old boy till they die!"). The tone is at once nostalgic and embittered, rollicking and sad, and the juxtaposition of domestic conventions with the wild masturbatory fantasies of young Alex Portnoy, achingly accurate in every respect, including the highly colored one of the "castrating" Jewish mama, often equals the pathetic brilliance of some of the short stories of Gogol and Babel, besides being, in its rather idiosyncratic way, a closer look at the "generation gap" than anything that has yet appeared in print. The other voice, while rarely losing its original verve, (this is, without doubt, the most "inspired" of Roth's performances), is much less authentic or agreeable: thirty-three-year-old Alex, hot shot lawyer in the Lindsay administration, self-deprecating slob and non-stop lecher, seems not so much a Roth creation as another of those porno-kvetching heroes familiar to readers of Bruce Jay Friedman, replete with bargain-sale displays of fellatio and cunnilingus, as well as an uncomfortable succession of shikses headed by "the Monkey," a votary of East Side Kama Sutra. The affair with Mary Jane, which occupies more than half of the book, is hysterical yet mechanical, private yet desperately unaware, appropriately exhausted on a note of "poetic justice"—Alex becomes impotent, and in Israel. Masterful in parts, phony in others, but obviously a "hot" best-seller.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1968

ISBN: 0679756450

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1968

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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

This new Baldwin novel is told by a 19-year-old black girl named Tish in a New York City ghetto about how she fell in love with a young black man, Fonny. He got framed on a rape charge and she got pregnant before they could marry and move into their loft; but Tish and her family Finance a trip to Puerto Rico to track down the rape victim and rescue Fonny, a sculptor with slanted eyes and treasured independence. The book is anomalous for the 1970's with its Raisin in the Sun wholesomeness. It is sometimes saccharine, but it possesses a genuinely sweet and free spirit too. Along with the reflex sprinkles of hate-whitey, there are powerful showdowns between the two black families, and a Frieze of people who — unlike Fonny's father — gave up and "congregated on the garbage heaps of their lives." The style wobbles as Tish mixes street talk with lyricism and polemic and a bogus kind of Young Adult hesitancy. Baldwin slips past the conflict between fighting the garbage heap and settling into a long-gone private chianti-chisel-and-garret idyll, as do Fonny and Tish and the baby. But Baldwin makes the affirmation of the humanity of black people which is all too missing in various kinds of Superfly and sub-fly novels.

Pub Date: May 24, 1974

ISBN: 0307275930

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974

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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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