This novel reminds us that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Revisiting Huckleberry Finn's America—by picking up where Mark Twain left off.

Coover’s 11th novel borrows its protagonist—and its inspiration—from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but don’t be deceived: this is less pastiche or sequel than a project with deeper roots. Taking place in the Dakotas during the decade after the end of the Civil War, the book follows Twain’s eponymous protagonist, now an adult, through a series of misadventures, including a turn as a Pony Express rider, some time spent living among the Lakota Sioux, and a difficult engagement with Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry Regiment, which ultimately met its fate at the Battle of the Greasy Grass. If such a setup seems reminiscent of Thomas Berger’s novel Little Big Man (1964), however, Coover has something more than satire on his mind. Rather, he is out to deconstruct not a genre but American literary iconography. In his telling, Tom Sawyer, who keeps turning up like a bad penny, has long since ceased to be a charming bad boy; he is now a zealot for public hangings and worse. “Anyways, Huck,” he explains, “EVERYTHING’S a hanging offense. Being ALIVE is. Only thing that matters is who’s doing the hanging and who’s being hung.” Becky Thatcher, meanwhile, abandoned by Tom when she was six months pregnant, has become a prostitute. These are not gratuitous turns but extrapolations based on the characters’ limited possibilities in a world defined by brutality. Coover effectively mirrors Twain’s style and Huck’s voice as well as the peripatetic movement of the original. More to the point, though, he is after a consideration, or critique, of the narrative of westward expansion, in which American hegemony was recast as opportunity and morality became an inconvenient truth at best. “We ARE America, clean to the bone!” Tom enthuses to his erstwhile friend late in the novel. “A perfect new Jerusalem right here on earth!.…They call us outlaws because they say we’re on tribal land, so we got to show our amaz’n American PATRIOTICS! These lands is rightfully OURN and we’re going to set up a Liberty Pole and raise the American flag on it to PROVE it!”

This novel reminds us that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-60844-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.


Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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