A welcome return that will leave readers looking forward to future work from McIlvain.


The author of Elders (2013) serves up another story of true belief and its discontents, this time set in the time of failing banks, rising inequality, and the Occupy movement.

It seems fitting that McIlvain should begin his story with a tennis match: tennis, after all, is the beloved domain of David Foster Wallace, patron saint of latter-day postmodern literature, but it also makes a nicely convenient symbolic backdrop against which to pit friends about to face a shattering agon, “a pair of pale intellectuals disgracing the game.” Sam Westergard is a Mormon-turned-socialist; the narrator, Eli, a bookish young man who finds Sam a perfect sparring partner in a Marxist theory course in grad school. (“I was just tired of poetry workshops,” Sam sighs, “and maybe a little curious.”) Theory becomes praxis when fellow travelers turn activist—and when their attention to matters of social justice takes on deadly seriousness. With its distant villain a shadowy Enron-era energy conglomerate, the story recalls Newton Thornburg’s novel Cutter and Bone at a few points, but whereas the earlier story was all sinewy, whiskey-soaked action, McIlvain seems more interested in exploring the contours of friendship and betrayal, with murder and intramural politics more bits of backdrop against that larger scenario of manners and ideas. Readers may find it helpful to have nodding familiarity with Marxist and Trotskyist thought to get some of McIlvain’s learned humor, but old-school lefties will surely nod in appreciation and recognition at his knowing description of communard angst: “What’s with all the Stalinist secrecy around here?” demands a comrade, Jamaal. “Do we have to fuck our way to the top?” An admonition swiftly follows: “What a charming reactionary you’d make.” Altogether, the story seems a touch more labored than McIlvain’s assured debut effort but still memorable, the details just right.

A welcome return that will leave readers looking forward to future work from McIlvain.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-553-41788-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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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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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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