A comic sendup of state government that remains lighthearted, deadpan, and full of affection for both urban and rural Texas.

TO SQUEEZE A PRAIRIE DOG

AN AMERICAN NOVEL

A young clerk gets caught up in a cost-saving scheme at work that rattles the Texas political establishment in this novel.

J.D. Wiswall has left his rural hometown of Brady, Texas, and moved into a tiny cinderblock house in Austin. He’s taken a job with the state, working as a data entry clerk for the Department of Unemployment and Benefits. His first day is unusual, as he finds his new boss, Brent Baker, outside of the office, passed out in some bushes. Brent claims he has epilepsy, but J.D. isn’t so sure. At work, his few colleagues consist of Deborah Martinez, a financially strapped mother of a grown son; Rita Jackson, a grandmother who runs the office lottery pool; and Conchino Gonzalez, a silent car fanatic. The duties are tedious, but Rita spices things up with hopes about a state contest. If the employees can generate an idea to save Texas money, there is a $10,000 prize. They plan to split the winnings if they succeed but have no good ideas. Back home, J.D.’s mother writes that his aunt is worried about him in the big city: “I keep insisting that you would never befriend hippies or smoke marijuana, but she is inconsolable.” Meanwhile, a reporter is called to the office of the Texas governor, a slippery partisan in a gold-plated wheelchair. He promises the journalist an exclusive, but she discovers something monumental on her own. At J.D.’s office, the hard-drinking Brent thinks he has found a way to claim that $10,000 and arranges a fateful meeting with the “Big Boss” that could be life-changing for all involved. Semegran’s (Sammie & Budgie, 2017, etc.) gently humorous foray into the depths of Texas’ bureaucracy takes a while to get going; after all, he is describing one of the more boring jobs around. But the pace picks up beautifully in the second half, as some chance occurrences and accidental muckraking come together in a manner worthy of Texas politics. Characterization is strong throughout the novel; the dialogue always rings true; and little touches add local color. For example, J.D. is never without pecan treats from his beloved hometown. The conclusion is notable for all that’s changed but also what will likely stay the same.

A comic sendup of state government that remains lighthearted, deadpan, and full of affection for both urban and rural Texas.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9997173-8-7

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Mutt Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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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