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GOOD ON PAPER

In this feat of a novel, knowledge is a tiny first step on the way to understanding.

A translator struggles to redefine her work, her family, and her sense of self.

Translation, done well, is less an act of comprehension than one of empathy—the translator must enter the writer’s head and decipher not only her words, but her intention. In Cantor’s (A Highly Unlikely Scenario, 2014) skillfully structured second novel, dilettante temp and single mom Shira Greene approaches translation work in stages: first she retypes, then she handwrites, scans for rhythm, takes notes, builds a lexicon, and ultimately throws the draft away before starting “the real business of translation, trusting that everything I’d noted had sunk into my cells.” Shira handles her relationships in a similarly convoluted way, dancing around and into them in bursts before stepping back to take stock. This tends to cause a fair amount of chaos, especially for her young daughter, Andi, and her old friend and surrogate co-parent, Ahmad, whose home they share. When Shira gets a telegram from a Nobel-winning poet about what seems like a dream translation project, she dives in despite the strangeness and reticence of the author. As his manuscript trickles in via fax, each section more impossible than the last, Shira’s personal life becomes just as tangled: Andi, feeling neglected, starts to act out; Ahmad, critical of Shira’s laissez faire parenting, threatens drastic measures; and Benny, a charmingly flawed rabbi and bookstore owner, seduces and rejects her in turns while hiding his own Noah-worthy flood of secrets. It’s a lot to absorb, but don't hesitate to try—Cantor clearly loves her characters, and she shows true mastery of their inner lives. Between endearingly wonky riffs about translation, she offers full access to Shira’s roller coaster of emotions, the collisions of her past and present, and keeps us hanging on through every curve. You’ll want to reread the final chapters more than once, delighted anew each time by how well Cantor speaks our language.

In this feat of a novel, knowledge is a tiny first step on the way to understanding.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61219-470-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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