NO MAN'S LAND

Hill, author of superior mysteries (Ruling Passion, etc.) and so-so thrillers (The Spy's Wife, etc.), offers a much more ambitious novel this time: a tale of three WW I deserters, 1916-1918, that's fairly strong as melodrama, fairly weak when it strains for psychosexual insights and thematic resonance. The British deserter is naive farm-lad Josh, who becomes useless as a soldier after witnessing the court-martial/execution of his beloved brother (who refused to follow kamikaze orders in the Battle of the Somme); unfortunately, he's more a clumsy metaphor than a believable character—especially when his tears are described as "last fragile symbols of purity and innocence in a world of the broken, the befouled and the betrayed." The German deserter is Sergeant Lothar, an aristocrat with radical/antiwar sentiments and a guilty conscience (because of his war-widowed sister-in-law's suicide). And when Lothar and Josh team up, mid-battle, to flee, they wind up joining a large band of deserters led by Hill's third central character: Australian macho-man Viney, a heavy-handed study in repressed homosexuality. Once the newcomers join "Viney's Volunteers" in their hide-out (an abandoned German bunker in no-man's-land), tensions escalate among the deserters: pragmatic Viney and idealistic Lothar vie for power, for Josh's adoration, while some of the others give vent to sheer greed, cowardice, or bloodthirstiness. Further complications ensue when the deserters form an uneasy alliance with a French peasant-family—which includes beautiful young Nicole (whom Josh inevitably loves) and her shell-shocked brother. . .whom Josh accidentally kills, propelling Nicole into the arms of Lothar (for a one-shot pregnancy). Meanwhile, the deserters are being stalked by a British captain whose fiance was killed, unintentionally, during one of Viney's anti-Army raids. And finally, amid a German Army assault, the priorities shift in uplifting—but unlikely—directions: the British captain helps Josh and Nicole to flee together; Viney, thanks in part to the onset of sexual self-awareness (after a brief, unconvincing consummation with Josh), becomes a sort of war-hero in the corny fade-out. Throughout, in fact, though the deserter theme is relatively fresh, Hill succumbs far too often to clich‚s of character and plotting from related genres (POW/lifeboat dramas, wartime soap-operas). On the other hand, his attempts at more serious, literary textures are largely misguided: stagey speeches to reflect conflicting views on war, socialism, and other historical issues; stilted ventures into poetic language; crude proclamations of "tragic irony." And the result, while fitfully involving as action-adventure and always earnestly workmanlike, is neither absorbing as a three-cornered character study nor persuasive as an exploration of the deserter phenomenon.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 1985

ISBN: 0586070850

Page Count: 397

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1986

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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