Enjoyable, terrifying, addictive: the kind of anthology readers deserve.

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ON THE ROCKS

THE KGB BAR FICTION ANTHOLOGY

White lightning in printed form.

The roster of writers who have read/performed their works at the KGB Bar in Greenwich Village over the years is an embarrassment of riches, no doubt. But an anthology of this sort can be a dangerous endeavor, sometimes resulting in first-name authors submitting third-rate material, the editors hoping that readers will be drawn in anyway by the marquee stars and KGB’s retro-Commie cachet. All such fears are put to rest when one cracks open the first of the 20 stories here, “He’s Back,” by Victoria Redel. An oblique cascade of scenes about a mother and child who spend an inordinate amount of time bathing, it turns sharply and darkly toward a husband’s violent dissatisfaction with family and life. Philip Gourevitch follows up with “Mortality Check,” which takes a simple pick-pocketing incident and morphs it into a Raymond Carver–esque tale of failed marriage. The stories here indeed often delight in beginning with the ordinary and taking them beyond the pale, though never in an expected fashion. Francine Prose’s “The Witch” injects a creepy hint of the supernatural into what should have been a routine piece about a chronically squabbling couple, while Judy Budnitz’s “Hook, Line & Sinker” kills the standard-issue my-parents-are-trying-to-set-me-up-with-a-doctor bit of dating-insecurity fluff that it could have been with this line: “I save used condoms, labeled and dated and sealed in Zip-Loc baggies in the freezer. I figured I might need them one day when I was old and lonely and ugly.” There are numerous other treats: Jonathan Lethem’s amusing and off-kilter “Planet Big Zero,” Thom Jones’s short, slashing tale of a young girl’s obsession with a homicidal maniac, “Thorazine Johnny Felsun Loves Me,” and Elizabeth Tippens’s ode to suburban ennui, “Make A Wish.”

Enjoyable, terrifying, addictive: the kind of anthology readers deserve.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-30152-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

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.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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