A touch of humor, even a little more dialogue, might have tempered the thematic self-importance.

ALL THE LAND TO HOLD US

Texas oil, contaminated water, the scorching sun over an arid landscape, a runaway elephant and a humungous catfish dwarf the human characters in this fever dream of an environmentalist novel.

Like a more modern McTeague or a Cormac McCarthy parody, the latest from Bass (The Lives of Rocks, 2006, etc.) falls short of its epic ambitions. It begins in Midland with the relationship of unlikely soul mates: Richard, a geologist compromised by his association with the oil industry, and Clarissa, who finds and sells fossils to subsidize her plan to escape the region. Their relationship may be as doomed as their love is passionate, but “their hands clasped together, it would seem to Clarissa that she and Richard were emotionally in some similar place and time, and that for the time being that might even be how they preferred it—neither east nor west, nor past nor future.” In contrast to the novel’s prim evocation of “the interior acts of love,” it reserves greater rapture for the life force (in the face of mortality) reflected in the landscape, “the thunderous force that drove the world, exceeding even the powers of gravity; as if longing were destiny, as if longing were sacred and sacrament, as if longing were holy, as if longing were as elemental a force of the world as magma or stone, or water or fire or spirit....” And so on. The novel expands to encompass Mexico as well as Texas and to include a woman transformed by an attempt to rescue a circus elephant, a young girl of unknown parents who is perceptive beyond her years, a Mormon schoolteacher, some evil oilmen and a variety of arts-and-crafts folk. It also includes cameos by the high school football team, which seems to have stumbled over from Friday Night Lights and serves as sort of a mute Greek chorus: “All of the players’ faces would be limned with saintly agony, each of them pushing himself farther than ever before, entering each morning into a new country....”

A touch of humor, even a little more dialogue, might have tempered the thematic self-importance.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-68712-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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