Literate, polished literary entertainment.

CHASING SHAKESPEARES

The question of who wrote Shakespeare’s plays stimulates a literary detective story, in this generally engrossing fourth from the author of the Vanished Child trilogy (A Citizen of the Country, 2000, etc.).

Narrator Joe Roper is a Northeastern University grad student (of humble Vermont origins) with a rather personal reaction to scholarship that rejects the credibility of a lowborn Shakespeare. Determined to become the Bard’s newest biographer, Joe discovers in a gaudy private collection a letter that’s seemingly the historical Shakespeare’s denial that he wrote the plays attributed to him. Both confused and reenergized, Joe hooks up with Posy Gould, a wealthy, flamboyant Harvard grad student who takes him to London, to have the letter “authenticated,” and collaborate on further researches, related travel, and—eventually—sex. Smith layers in heavily detailed historical and literary information, as both the pair’s conversations with interested parties (including Posy’s roughhewn, Damon Runyonish dad) and Joe’s intellectual meanderings consider possibilities that either “the king behind . . . Queen Elizabeth’s] throne” William Cecil or Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (a longtime prime suspect) “was” Shakespeare; revealing stylistic inconsistencies in a play traditionally attributed to journeyman scribbler Anthony Munday; and the shadowy figure of minor Elizabethan poet Fulke Greville. The story works best as a lively, often engagingly profane love song to London, the Elizabethan Age, and of course the great dramatist. Joe is a likable hero, though Posy’s a bit much—especially when she speaks Valley Girl like a native (“That is so smoking gun,” etc.). Readers uninterested in the Shakespeare authorship controversy may tune out early. But anyone who enjoyed (obvious predecessors) A.S. Byatt’s Possession or Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time will be suitably charmed—and enlightened.

Literate, polished literary entertainment.

Pub Date: June 10, 2003

ISBN: 0-7434-6482-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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