Exile in the Kingdom is no L’Etranger, but it’s a potent little nightmare image of the way we live now and the extremities...

READ REVIEW

EXILE IN THE KINGDOM

The violence that haunts America’s schools is most effectively analyzed in this spare, prescient debut, originally published in 1999 in France (where its Maine author taught) as La Dernière Sentinelle.

The story’s a deliberate imitation of Camus’s stark classic L’Etranger, narrated in a similarly flat, emotionless voice by a seemingly harmless young man who indiscriminately murders. He’s Philip Carmichael, a 17-year-old high-school basketball star, beneath whose façade of good looks and high achievement we feel the struggles of a youngster who can’t relate to his extroverted buddies and teammates, his mostly absent mother (who talks family closeness, but isn’t around much) or geographically distanced “biological father,” his mercurial coach or impatient girlfriend. Harnum doesn’t exactly conceal the deadly surprise hidden in Philip’s school locker (the reader figures it out early on), but he does take us deep inside the psyche of a loner who truly doesn’t understand why he feels so detached and friendless, or the consequences of his (quite literally horrific) actions, even after imprisonment and trial give the decisive rebuke to his unreachable “seeming indifference” (“For some reason, a part of me inside hadn’t thought this was all that serious”). Harnum was surely mistaken to give so much space to opposing trial counsels’ closing statements (all the old arguments about a violent culture breeding violence, the need for personal responsibility, and the like are dutifully trotted out, but add nothing new to the ongoing debate); you can feel the author stretching the pages to novel-length. Conversely, his portrayal of Philip grows steadily stronger, more moving, and more revelatory. And when, at the very end, we see him in his jail cell idly playing violent virtual-reality computer games, a real chill settles over the reader.

Exile in the Kingdom is no L’Etranger, but it’s a potent little nightmare image of the way we live now and the extremities our flesh are heir to. Welcome home, Mr. Harnum.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-58465-148-2

Page Count: 172

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

more