Languid plot, self-conscious writing, unappealing protagonists: in all, an uninspired first outing.

CATCHING HEAVEN

A first novel fulsomely charting the lives of two sisters, smart women who do dumb things until the obligatory life-transforming event makes them wise and contented.

Hall’s protagonists, unfortunately, are so self-centered and obtuse that they evoke irritation rather than sympathy—their respective plights, consequently, seeming less the unfair workings of fate than something well deserved. In her 40s, elder sister Maud, an actress, has been living in L.A. with her lover and trying to succeed in Hollywood. She also desperately wants a baby, but feeling she’s getting nowhere, heads to Marengo, New Mexico, where sister Lizzie lives. Lizzie, who has three children by three different men, is an artist who teaches at a local college and also illustrates greeting cards. She’s opted for single motherhood but might have changed her mind if Jake, the father of Theo, her youngest, hadn’t fled town once he heard she was pregnant. Maud finds work singing in a nightclub, and the two sisters, always jealous of each other, settle into an edgy relationship. Jake, a songwriter and computer expert, is also back in town and wants to make amends, but Lizzie isn’t ready yet to forgive him for his desertion. While she tries to find herself, Maud sleeps with a Native American activist, then with Rich, the young cowboy boyfriend of Jeep (Liz’s babysitter), then gets a starring role in the local drama production. Meanwhile, she’s also drawn to Jake, who’s similarly tempted. Jeep’s attempted suicide after finding she’s pregnant, and the death of Sam, an old lover and tenant of Lizzie’s, seem tossed in to add drama to a sagging narrative. Family ties will win out, while other affirming connections and insights will enable Maud and Lizzie finally to act smart before it’s too late.

Languid plot, self-conscious writing, unappealing protagonists: in all, an uninspired first outing.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-345-43970-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

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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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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