Brisk and (generally) unsentimental stories of New England rural life, by an emerging New Hampshire writer whose flinty wit may remind readers of Maine's Carolyn Chute or Vermont's E. Annie Proulx. Of the 19 tales gathered here, several have previously appeared in Rule's Wood Heat (1992, not reviewed). Her narrative situations tend toward monotonyunappreciated housewives, selfish and inconsiderate husbands, ignored and inquisitive kids predominatebut a real unity is gained by her fierce concentration on people who lead stunted, unfulfilled lives and know in their bones they were meant for something better. The collection begins impressively, with an inventive image of down-eastern sheer cussedness at a contentious school-district meeting (``Yankee Curse'') and the tangy title story, in which an embattled woman finds surcease from a lingering illness in adapting her newfound skills as a potter to contemplate voodoo against a self-righteous neighbor. If too many of the subsequent pieces focus on daughters fishing with their fathers, or deprived spouses confronting their overgrown-boy husbands, Rule nevertheless manages several almost- total successes. There's a charming example of her feel for the tensions between stubborn townsfolk and naive newcomers in ``The Widow and the Trapper,'' effectively varied portrayals of the psyches of lonely and misunderstood women in ``Etta Walks'' and ``Ada among the Dogs,'' and a deeply moving, richly metaphoric study of a well-meaning failure in the volume's best story, ``The Fisher Cat.'' Rule knows her fishing, farming, and trapping details and can raise a reader's eyebrows with salty dialogue (``She's not a witch....She's a baptist'') and vigorous imagery (when a Little League base-runner is incorrectly called out, Rule writes, ``They'll have to pry him off this base like a bloodsucker from a swimmer's calf''). This strong book is a bit like a New England barn: rough- edged, with unaccountable gaps and overhangs and nails hammered into places where they're not needed. But it does the job, and looks built to last.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1995

ISBN: 0-87451-702-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1995

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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