A chilly, desolate work, as painful to read as diving into a frigid lake.

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SWEETWATER

A Georgia O’Keeffe biographer, storywriter, and third-novelist (This is My Daughter, 1998, etc.) pursues in lusterless fashion a conflicted widow who marries the wrong brother.

Water is the dominant metaphor in this emotionally bloodless work: late-40s protagonist Isabel Green is an expert in effluent contamination at NYC’s Environmental Protection Resources, and her brand-new self-important second husband, Paul Simmons, has brought her for the first time to visit his family’s lakefront summer home, Sweetwater, in the Adirondacks. Isabel is still recovering from the depression-induced suicide of her first husband and has married Paul out of sympathetic pity and hope for comfort in old age—a decision soon revealed as cruel and shortsighted. Paul and his aged, unloving parents are severely stiffened WASPs with crosses to bear: Paul’s own lifetime grudge concerns a jealous rivalry with his younger brother, Whitney, a never-married Wyoming conservation-biologist whom Paul suspects of stealing his girlfriends. In fact, Whit does attract Isabel, with his stories of observing and protecting western lions, and her staggering betrayal coincides with the approach of a forest fire as the Simmons family tongue-barb each other mercilessly about their shortcomings. The story is a strange amalgamation: a treatise on environmental stewardship; an elegiac memoir about the desertion experienced after the suicide of a spouse; and an awkward growing-to-maturity feminine manifesto. Although Isabel is reading Proust (mentioned offhandedly), her utter lack of self-knowledge is preposterous after Robinson’s meticulous chronicling of her early courtship with and marriage to Michael; motherhood and later attempts to conceive a second child; career development and fear and denial of Michael’s growing depression—as preposterous as Isabel’s marriage to a man merely to be nice. Robinson takes no risks as a writer (“Isabel’s imagination was water, and the more she learned about it, the more marvelous it seemed”), and as a result her writing seems as constipated as her characters.

A chilly, desolate work, as painful to read as diving into a frigid lake.

Pub Date: May 20, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-50916-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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