For once this major American writer appears, uncharacteristically, to have veered off course.



For his sixth novel, Rash (The Cove, 2012, etc.) plays a park ranger’s past traumas against a sheriff’s present crises.

When Becky Shytle was in elementary school in Virginia, a gunman invaded her school, killing the teacher who had escorted her to safety. For months afterward she couldn’t speak, finding her voice only in the safe haven of her grandparents’ farm. Later, as a park ranger, a relationship ended badly when her boyfriend became an eco-terrorist and was killed. That time, it was the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins who saved her soul, along with the anonymous cave painters of Lascaux. In an unnamed town in the North Carolina mountains, Rash’s invariable setting, Becky, now the superintendent of a state park, has found a kindred spirit in the sheriff, Les. He too turned inward after his wife’s suicide attempt led to an exceptionally painful divorce. Les is 51, retiring after 30 years’ hard grind; just two more items of business left. The first is a meth bust, so nightmarish a rookie officer quits on the spot. (Rash on meth-heads is always riveting.) The second involves the poisoning of trout at a fishing resort. The prime suspect is elderly landowner Gerald Blackwelder, a good man but ornery and Becky’s staunch supporter in all things environmental. She alternates as narrator with Les; her Hopkins-infused musings are a counterpoint to Les’ action-oriented segments. There are six players in the poisoning case, so Les has his work cut out for him, and this storyline takes over the novel. An ordinary whodunit seems to have elbowed aside a more spacious novel about characters whose deep affinities with the natural world, and its interpreters, sustain them among unremitting man-made violence.

For once this major American writer appears, uncharacteristically, to have veered off course.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-234931-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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