A touch overlong and sometimes perplexing but original and memorable.

THE VOLUNTEER

A soldier who goes off to war returns, but the war continues for generations to come.

The child is father to the man. But who is the child’s father, and what are the true names and identities of both father and son? Scibona (The End, 2008) delivers an enigmatic story that hinges on secrecy and uncertainty. Vollie Frade, befitting his name, joins the Marine Corps at the height of the Vietnam War, forging his father’s signature because he’s still a minor, shocking his mother, who says resignedly, “I’m surprised they let a person just take himself away like that.” With that, Vollie is off to a place in which he will experience all the customary hells of war but where he will also shed one identity to take another. “He kept on unaccountably not getting killed,” writes Scibona, but odd bits of metal and ugly misadventures find him anyway—and so does a spook named Lorch, a specialist in the “more modern intelligence function of covert operations,” who instructs Vollie that although he had been in Cambodia, he really hadn’t, because Congress had passed a law against crossing into Cambodia: “Ergo you were not.” Equipped with a new name and job, Vollie roams a world in which meaning is resolutely unfixed. He acquires a wife and son along the way, and happiness does not ensue; the mood turns to Carver territory, punctuated by occasional improbabilities more suited to Pynchon, leading up to a spasm of violence that’s unexpected but perfectly appropriate. As with his first novel, with which it has thematic similarities, Scibona’s story takes in a broad sweep of time, looking into the future to foresee an end that may not be so terrible but that is just as certain. The plot sometimes threatens to come off the rails, but throughout, the narrative is marked by distinctive lyricism and striking images: “They were standing on a street corner in 1973. The sun fell everywhere like a terrible shower, and they cast no shadows.”

A touch overlong and sometimes perplexing but original and memorable.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55852-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

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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