Hansen’s novel isn’t a prefeminist commentary, but his awareness of 1920s gender roles gives this familiar story additional...

A WILD SURGE OF GUILTY PASSION

Acclaimed author Hansen (Exiles, 2008, etc.) revisits the Jazz Age murder plot that inspired James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity.

Why take on a story that’s already been the source for a classic crime novel and film? Partly to move beyond the restrictions of genre fiction: Instead of ventriloquizing noir tropes, Hansen explores the slow path to dissolution that begins with doomed love, as well as the sexism that corseted women faced in the 1920s. The novel fictionalizes the lives of Judd Gray, a lingerie salesman, and Ruth Snyder, the wife of an art director at a Manhattan magazine, who both feel restricted in their marriages (though Hansen deliberately fogs just how abusive Snyder’s husband is). After meeting through a mutual acquaintance, the two pursue an intense affair that lasts more than a year. Their trysts speak to Hansen’s second alteration to the story: His sexual candor gives the book an eroticism and intensity that would have been unthinkable in Cain’s 1943 novel, Double Indemnity, or its film version. The sensual appeal of the affair wears off quickly, though, as Judd slips deeper into alcoholism and Snyder so despairs of her marriage that she begins to consider how her husband might be killed. Hansen brilliantly characterizes the denial and moral degradation that overtake Judd and Snyder, largely through a passive voice; the two don’t do things so much as have things done to them. Yet Hansen never makes them unsympathetic, a feat that’s particularly impressive after they have been arrested for their roles in the death of Snyder’s husband. Describing the Judd-Snyder trial and accompanying media circus, Hansen occasionally lapses into passages of flat-footed journalistic reportage, yet even the dry style serves a purpose: It brings into sharp relief the lurid and sexist coverage of the trial (which made Snyder into a predatory nymphomaniac who snared the hapless Gray), and questions how much Snyder was a victim of her times.

Hansen’s novel isn’t a prefeminist commentary, but his awareness of 1920s gender roles gives this familiar story additional power.

Pub Date: June 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-1755-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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