Brilliant slices of life don’t quite cohere into a satisfying whole.

AMATEUR BARBARIANS

Cohen (Inspired Sleep, 2001, etc.) explores the emptiness beneath the placid surface of modern life.

These barbarians aren’t anything terribly special—they are, after all, amateurs—but they do have their quirks, caprices and hang-ups. Teddy Hastings is the principal of a New England middle school. He has health problems—could it be cancer?—and he gets jailed briefly for taking nearly-nude pictures of his teenage daughter Mimi for a photography course. After his brief but embarrassing incarceration, he takes off for Africa, chasing his errant daughter Danny, whose junior year abroad morphed into a desire to see the world. Dilettante Oren Pierce, a modern man who’s tried a little of everything but can’t settle down or commit to anything, begins teaching at Hastings’ school; while Teddy is in Africa, Oren has an affair with his wife Gail. In one hilarious episode, Oren covers a class for a seriously ill colleague, a situation that confirms he’s totally unfit for dealing with adolescents filled with equal parts of phlegm and ennui. Like many other adults in Cohen’s fictive world, Gail is edgy, cynical and apathetic. She and Oren enter their affair out of lethargy rather than out of mutual attraction. Gail’s take on her life is drearily unremarkable yet filled with casual despair: “Try working for a firm that’s barely solvent, in a town that’s not too solvent either. Try coming home to a daughter who hates you, and a husband who’s been publicly humiliated and won’t go out of the house.” At first rather tightly woven, the narrative eventually fragments into luminous but loosely connected vignettes of Gail and Oren’s life in New England juxtaposed with Teddy’s doomed attempt to re-establish a meaningful relationship with Danny. Cohen has a superb ear for the rhythms of suburban speech, for the offhand nonchalance with which people dismiss each other’s dreams, and for the murky monotony of desperation.

Brilliant slices of life don’t quite cohere into a satisfying whole.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-7432-3036-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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