Despite occasionally clunky prose, a tight narrative that adeptly balances raw emotional trauma with compassion and...

The Girl in the Bath

In playwright Bishop’s debut novel, teenage Lila’s unexpected, stillborn baby acts as a catalyst in helping a small Australian community heal long-festering emotional wounds.

With the weird grace of a Jane Campion film, this novel balances the potential tear-jerker quality of its story with richly drawn characters. Titular girl Lila handles the birth of her stillborn, premature baby with a surprising aplomb, ducking her teenage brother Jason as he heads out to school and her travel-agent mother Meredith as she rushes off to her unfulfilling job. While Lila fends off a visit by her possessive boyfriend, Dean, with text messages, Meredith internally rehashes the epic failure of her marriage to cad Cliff while flirting with her middle-age co-worker Charles. Meanwhile, Lila’s depressed neighbor Doris is drawn out of her decadeslong funk and into the oddly appropriate role of savior/mentor. Will Meredith allow herself to experience love, as opposed to hanging on to the illusion of glamorized lust? Will the residents of the poverty-stricken Pandora Crescent overcome their failures and begin leading new lives? Although peppered with the occasional cliché— “weak at the knees,” “The wheels of justice,” “her little eyes as round as saucers,” etc.—this novel has a taut, surprising narrative. Bishop has a knack for weaving what could be ponderous back stories into the main thrust of the narrative, thereby rewarding readers instead of punishing them with unnecessary detail. Additionally, while the characters occasionally exhibit somewhat outlandish flourishes, Bishop complements these traits with an unerring sense of human frailty: “Lila could not remember Meredith ever crying again. If she had, it was behind her own closed bedroom door and not in front of her children.” The icky emotional territory of the novel is leavened with compassion and a wry sense of humor, while carefully chosen rural and urban features, from wind storms to the forced intimacy of unimaginative tract housing, subtly move the story forward. Essentially, Bishop plumbs the flawed depths of human regret without relying on manipulative theatrics.

Despite occasionally clunky prose, a tight narrative that adeptly balances raw emotional trauma with compassion and inventive staging.

Pub Date: March 31, 2014

ISBN: 978-1452513683

Page Count: 230

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2014

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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