Against all expectation, considering the subject matter, Jankowsky is a more interesting character than the novel in which...

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WILLING

After a strong beginning, this novel about a writer on an international sex tour doesn’t show much staying power.

Spencer has long specialized in inspired novelistic setups (A Ship Made of Paper, 2003, etc.), but rarely has he seemed to have more fun than he does here with the introduction of his first-person protagonist. Though scuffling freelancer Avery Jankowsky has traces of Bellow’s Augie March and Roth’s Portnoy in his voice, he’s as unlucky in his career as he is in romance. It seems he only has one real story to tell: that of his mother’s four marriages, which resulted in her son’s four successive surnames. He quickly runs out of steam with his potential lovers—perhaps it’s his fatalistic attitude toward his younger girlfriends that chases them away. Following the confession by his latest that she has been having an affair with a brutish Russian, he finds himself, through an improbable coincidence, booked onto what is supposed to be a first-class sex tour—through Scandinavia rather than the more child-exploitive Southeast Asia. The tour comprises the novel’s second and lesser half, as Spencer introduces so many characters that the reader has trouble keeping them straight, and Spencer (or Jankowsky) proves squeamish at writing about actual sex. What is billed as a fantasy excursion seems more like a farce, one that has the narrator waxing philosophic about his noble instincts and his animal nature, his struggle with good and evil (or at least bad) and his loss of the ability to make “the distinction between what was naughty and what was despicable.” Spencer makes potentially transgressive fare seem pedestrian, with the novel meandering its way toward a finale that feels abrupt and arbitrary—as foreplay ultimately leads to an anticlimax.

Against all expectation, considering the subject matter, Jankowsky is a more interesting character than the novel in which he finds himself.

Pub Date: March 11, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-076015-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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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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Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

ALMOST JUST FRIENDS

Piper Manning is determined to sell her family’s property so she can leave her hometown behind, but when her siblings come back with life-changing secrets and her sexy neighbor begins to feel like “The One,” she might have to redo her to-do list.

As children, Piper and her younger siblings, Gavin and Winnie, were sent to live with their grandparents in Wildstone, California, from the Congo after one of Gavin’s friends was killed. Their parents were supposed to meet them later but never made it. Piper wound up being more of a parent than her grandparents, though: “In the end, Piper had done all the raising. It’d taken forever, but now, finally, her brother and sister were off living their own lives.” Piper, the queen of the bullet journal, plans to fix up the family’s lakeside property her grandparents left the three siblings when they died. Selling it will enable her to study to be a physician’s assistant as she’s always wanted. However, just as the goal seems in sight, Gavin and Winnie come home, ostensibly for Piper’s 30th birthday, and then never leave. Turns out, Piper’s brother and sister have recently managed to get into a couple buckets of trouble, and they need some time to reevaluate their options. They aren’t willing to share their problems with Piper, though they’ve been completely open with each other. And Winnie, who’s pregnant, has been very open with Piper’s neighbor Emmitt Reid and his visiting son, Camden, since the baby’s father is Cam’s younger brother, Rowan, who died a few months earlier in a car accident. Everyone has issues to navigate, made more complicated by Gavin and Winnie’s swearing Cam to secrecy just as he and Piper try—and fail—to ignore their attraction to each other. Shalvis keeps the physical and emotional tension high, though the siblings’ refusal to share with Piper becomes tedious and starts to feel childish.

Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296139-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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