A sprawling novel of adultery and deception whose ideas don’t quite live up to their potential.

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On The Edge of Dangerous Things

In Snyder-Carroll’s first novel, a married couple grapples with secrets and lies below the facade of their life in a picture-perfect Florida community.

Like Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), Hester Murphy spends much of her life confronting sexual mores, shame and deception. As the book opens, a hurricane is wreaking havoc on Pleasant Palms Trailer Park, where Hester and her husband, Al, have been living for years. While looking for her husband to make sure he is safe, Hester finds him in a compromising position—in bed with their adopted daughter, Nina, who appears to be gravely injured if not dead. From this gripping beginning, Snyder-Carroll jumps back and forth in time to present some of the sordid details of Hester’s life, her marriage to Al and the circumstances that brought Nina into their lives. As Hester tries to decide how to proceed with the choices before her, the anecdotes about her past demonstrate that “being married to Al Murphy was, since the first day she met him, all she ever wanted”—an obsession that leads her down a dangerous path. Snyder-Carroll creates a complex female heroine in Hester, who is, refreshingly, not always sympathetic; however, it is unclear how much of Hester’s perspective is meant to be unreliable. To the reader, Al’s flaws are so clearly delineated that Hester’s blindness appears almost dense rather than pitiable and rooted in complicated sexual obsession. The secondary characters can come across as a bit flat, including Nina, whom Hester suspects of being “a little actress who wants some attention.” The constant jumps in time are confusing, and the plot grows more and more soapy until it reaches its final Gothic twist, which is straight out of a Faulkner novel, without the stunning prose. Snyder-Carroll seems to be trying to weave in too many stories at once—a thriller plot of infidelity and murder, a satire of suburban social mores, even a moral and religious meditation on sexual impropriety. Focusing on one of these threads and narrowing her gaze might have helped shape some of the ideas into a more compact, readable novel.

A sprawling novel of adultery and deception whose ideas don’t quite live up to their potential.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-1484015667

Page Count: 340

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2014

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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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