CLOUDSPLITTER

An inordinately ambitious portrayal of the life and mission of abolitionist John Brown, from the veteran novelist whose previous fictional forays into American history include The New World (1978) and The Relation of My Imprisonment (not reviewed). Banks's story takes the form of a series of lengthy letters written, 40 years after Brown's execution, by his surviving son Owen in response to the request of a professor (himself a descendant of William Lloyd Garrison) who is planning a biography of the antislavery martyr. Owen's elaborate tale, frequently interrupted by digressive analyses of his own conflicted feelings about his family's enlistment in their father's cause, traces a pattern of family losses and business failings that seemed only to heighten ``the Old Man's'' fervent belief that he had been chosen by God to lead the slaves to freedom. As we observe the increasingly wrathful actions of Brown, his sons, and his followers, Banks patiently reveals and explores the motivations that will lead to their involvement with the Underground Railroad, the bloody slaughter (by Brown's self-proclaimed ``Army of the North'') of ``pro-slave settlers'' in Kansas, and finally the fateful attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. In many ways, this is very impressive fiction—obviously a painstakingly researched one, with a genuine understanding of both the particulars and the attitudes of its period. The slowly building indirect characterization of ``Father Abraham, making his terrible, final sacrifice to his God'' has some power. But Owen's redundant agonies of conscience (especially regarding his sexual naivetÇ) grow tiresome, and the novel is enormously overlong (e.g., Banks gives us the full nine-page text of a sermon Brown preaches, comparing himself to Job). Cloudsplitter will undoubtedly be much admired. But it penetrates less convincingly into the enigma of John Brown than did a novel half its length, Leonard Ehrlich's God's Angry Man, published 60 years ago. Once again, sadly, Banks's reach has exceeded his grasp. ($125,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: March 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-06-016860-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1997

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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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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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