A little like Jon Hassler’s engaging Minnesota fiction and Thomas Williams’s New Hampshire–Gothic Whipple’s Castle—and very...

EMPIRE FALLS

The life of a small southern-central Maine town is memorably laid bare in Russo’s splendid fifth novel—every bit as reader-friendly and satisfying as its predecessors (Straight Man, 1997, etc.).

Not that Russo’s trademark wry humor isn’t everywhere present, especially in protagonist Miles Roby’s relations, friends, neighbors, and antagonists. Miles, generally considered “the nicest, saddest man in all of Empire Falls,” manages the Empire Grill for widowed plutocrat Francine Whiting (who may/may not bequeath it to him). He’s barely scraping by in an economically challenged community that was once the thriving site of the Whitings’ logging and textile mill “empire.” And he’s watching his teenaged daughter Christina (“Tick”) painstakingly mature, while also laboring to keep emotional distance from a host of brilliantly sketched seriocomic characters. These latter include Miles’s intemperate “soon-to-be-ex-wife” Janine and her aging fiancé, the annoyingly hearty “Silver Fox” Walt Comeau; Miles’s old high-school friend and enemy, hard-nosed cop Jimmy Minty; his one-armed brother (and reputed marijuana grower) David; and especially his widowed father Max, a senile delinquent who’s eternally on the make and cadging “loans” (mostly from Miles). Russo’s genius for loosely episodic storytelling hasn’t faded, but here it’s expertly yoked to several smartly paced parallel plots, whose origins and ramifications are spelled out in extended italicized flashbacks (as well as in a moving explanatory epilogue)—and focus in turn on the unhappy marriage and early death of Miles’s beautiful mother Grace, the slow-burning fuse that is Tick’s nerdy classmate John Voss (whose loneliness triggers the story’s heart-tugging climax), and the skeletons carefully hidden in the Whiting mansion’s many closets.

A little like Jon Hassler’s engaging Minnesota fiction and Thomas Williams’s New Hampshire–Gothic Whipple’s Castle—and very much the crowning achievement of Russo’s remarkable career.

Pub Date: May 22, 2001

ISBN: 0-679-43247-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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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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TRUE BETRAYALS

Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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