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


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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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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