An intelligently conceived tale of frustration, but one that’s too slow-paced to keep readers’ attention.

AN AUSSIE-CANUCK RUNS AMUCK

In Brennt’s debut novel, an aging, Canadian mathematics professor, who’s obsessed with all things Russian, decides to assassinate the Russian president. 

Andrew Bloomfield is a contract professor of mathematics in Toronto who’s been unable to “break into the tenure stream,” despite decades of competent service. In 2016, he’s in his 70s and financially secure but lonely—and increasingly fixated on Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Padlov, whom he considers an “ignorant odious, evil little swaggering sprite with the mind of a blundering bully.” Padlov’s crimes and vices are indeed numerous, but Andrew focuses on how the president has undermined the Soviet-era policy of mutually assured destruction, which has increased the threat of a grand “nuclear conflagration.” Andrew has always been drawn to Russian culture—he lived in Moscow in the mid-1960s—and he turns to Russian dating services when searching for companionship. While dating a beautiful woman from Siberia named Nadia Nazarenko, he was subjected to a daily diet of Russian television, and his hatred for Padlov became truly implacable. At one point, he turns to a stranger in line at the bank, whom he suspects is Russian, and asks, “Padlov is just too much, don’t you think? Someone should get rid of him, that’s for sure”; soon, the professor is formulating a dangerous plan. Brennt chronicles Andrew’s slow descent into madness in a peculiar but beguiling mixture of the quotidian and the comically fantastical. Over the course of the book, readers learn a lot about Andrew, from his emigration to Toronto from Australia as a young man, to his disdain for the dogmatism of Marxist theory, to his failed marriage and strained relationship with his stepsons. The protagonist comes off as an engagingly quirky character—a deeply cerebral man “who can’t get enough cosmology,” and who gets lost in reflections on “nothingness.” At its best, the novel is a thoughtful, often funny exploration of the allure of political anger. However, the plot inches along at a glacial pace and takes too many detours—many of which amount to simply more scrutiny of Andrew’s everyday life. 

An intelligently conceived tale of frustration, but one that’s too slow-paced to keep readers’ attention. 

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-77355-027-5

Page Count: 289

Publisher: York University Bookstore

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

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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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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