SABBATH'S THEATER

If Chaucer's Wife of Bath had been a male Jewish sexagenarian, she might have sounded a lot like Morris "Mickey" Sabbath. He's the lustful egomaniac whose breakneck chutzpah powers Roth's brilliant new novel—his funniest since the palmy days, so to speak, of Portnoy's Complaint. Sabbath was once a notorious puppeteer, whose "Indecent Theater" performances evinced "an unseemly, brilliantly disgusting talent." Now aged 64, on the outs with the wife who bores him (and supports him), Mickey vacillates between clinging to life and preparing for death. He recalls those who needed him or fed his various hungers, including his first wife, Nikki, a beautiful cipher who simply walked out of his life one day and never reappeared; his dead mother, who endured the majority of her years mourning the death in wartime combat of Mickey's older brother Morty; and his dead mistress Drenka, a sexual athlete whose exploits moved him to cheers—all the people he has loved, hated, exploited, abused, and lost. Effectively exiled from his upstate New York home, Sabbath wanders to Manhattan for one old friend's funeral, moves in with another (whose wife and daughter he schemes to seduce), survives the mean city streets' dangers (in a rude and hilarious parody of Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet), and repeatedly performs an act of typically Rothian homage at Drenka's gravesite. There's a delirious, exhilarating grandeur in the mad old man's defiant refusal to mourn or regret, his visceral determination to squeeze every drop of pleasure out of every experience still within his reach. Death may beckon, but, as Mickey Sabbath keeps blissfully rediscovering, "Something always [comes] along to make you keep living, goddamnit." No writer since Henry Miller has depicted sex as the driving force of life with such a scintillating combination of wit and heat. Roth here creates one of contemporary fiction's great characters—and manages the Herculean feat of containing him in a savage, spectacular novel that may well be his best.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 1995

ISBN: 0-395-73982-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1995

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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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