A clever but seriously self-indulgent drug fantasy.


A 30-something vagabond with a closetful of addictions experiments with a macabre new career.

Bishop-Stall, better known for experiential journalism in his native Canada, unleashes a profane, anarchic host of dope fiends in his first novel. Loosely framed against the lyrical structure of Bob Seger’s song “Fire Lake,” the story is a cautionary tale about a writer whose desire to get high derails his ability to tell good stories. Mason Dubisee is a mess when we meet him, and never gets much clearer. He’s landed in Toronto with Chaz, a coolly manipulative dealer who goes to such great lengths to please his customers that he builds his own private club complete with a drug bar and a panic room. “Mason had vowed that he’d never become a dealer, but he’d broken a lot of other vows—that’s what happened if you went around vowing haphazardly like a carefree, careless monk,” writes Bishop-Stall. Instead of pulling him into the family business, Chaz sets Mason up with a gig as “The Dogfather,” a dealer of dirty-water hot dogs to the city’s worker bees. When a regular, Warren, finds out about Mason’s writing abilities, he hires him to write his suicide note. This “successful” exchange sets Mason up in business, writing goodbye letters for some equally forgettable characters. The seedy characters with which the author surrounds Mason, notably a heroin-addicted paraplegic named Willy, lead to some interesting vignettes. However, the novel is also chaotic, rocketing from drug parlor to rooftop to hungover mornings, mimicking the blackout-riddled arc of its main character. Its nine disparate sequences often play out like short stories whose narrative connections are torn and frayed. By the time Mason is pitted against “The Handyman,” a psychotic Finnish serial killer in a winner-takes-all game of cards, it’s not easy to keep rooting for him.

A clever but seriously self-indulgent drug fantasy.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59376-295-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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