By the author’s standards, this is taut, trim storytelling, though it characteristically makes all sorts of connections and...

ORFEO

A NOVEL

The earmarks of the renowned novelist’s work are here—the impressive intellect, the patterns connecting music and science and so much else, the classical grounding of the narrative—but rarely have his novels been so tightly focused and emotionally compelling.

With his “genius” certified by a MacArthur grant, Powers (Generosity, 2009, etc.) has a tendency to intimidate some readers with novels overstuffed with ideas that tend to unfold like multilayered puzzles. His new one (and first for a new publisher) might be a good place for newcomers to begin while rewarding the allegiance of his faithful readership. His Orpheus of the updated Greek myth (which the novel only loosely follows) is a postmodern composer who lost his family to his musical quest; his teaching position to his age and the economy; and his early aspirations to study chemistry to the love of a musical woman who left him. At the start of the novel, he is pursuing his recent hobby in his home lab as “a do-it-yourself genetic engineer,” hoping for “only one thing before he dies: to break free of time and hear the future.” Otherwise, his motives remain a mystery to the reader and to the novel’s other characters, particularly after discovery of his DNA experiments (following the death of his faithful dog and musical companion, Fidelio) sends him on the lam as a suspected bioterrorist and turns his story viral. While rooted in Greek mythology, this is a very contemporary story of cybertechnology, fear run rampant, political repression of art and the essence of music (its progression, its timelessness). “How did music trick the body into thinking it had a soul?” asks protagonist Peter Els, surely one of the most soulful characters that the novelist has ever conjured. Els looks back over his life for much of the narrative, showing how his values, priorities, quests and misjudgments have (inevitably?) put him into the predicament where he finds itself.

By the author’s standards, this is taut, trim storytelling, though it characteristically makes all sorts of connections and proceeds on a number of different levels.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-24082-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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