Breathtaking both in pain and in beauty; a singular book.

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THE FRIEND

Quietly brilliant and darkly funny, Nunez's (Sempre Susan, 2011, etc.) latest novel finds her on familiar turf with an aggressively unsentimental interrogation of grief, writing, and the human-canine bond.

After her best friend and mentor's suicide, an unnamed middle-aged writing professor is bequeathed his well-behaved beast of a dog. Apollo is a majestic, if aging, Great Dane, whom her friend—like all the human characters, unnamed—found abandoned in Brooklyn and kept, against the rather reasonable protests of his third and final wife. And so, in the midst of her overwhelming grief for the man whose life has anchored hers, the woman agrees to take in the animal, despite the exceedingly clear terms of her rent-stabilized lease. Apollo, too, is grieving, in his doggy way—after his master’s death, he waited by the door round the clock (“you can’t explain death to a dog,” says Wife Three); now, in the woman’s care, he throws himself listlessly on the bed, all 180 pounds of him. And though she is a self-professed cat person—not because she prefers them, but because they are less indiscriminately devoted (“Give me a pet that can get along without me”)—the two become unlikely companions in mourning, eventually forming the kind of bond Rilke once described as love: “two solitudes that protect and border and greet each other." In contemplating her current situation—the loss, the dog—the woman is oriented by art: not just Rilke but Virginia Woolf, J.M. Coetzee, the relentlessly grim Swedish film Lilya 4-Ever, Joy Williams, Milan Kundera, the British writer J.R. Ackerley in love with his dog. It is a lonely novel: rigorous and stark, so elegant—so dismissive of conventional notions of plot—it hardly feels like fiction.

Breathtaking both in pain and in beauty; a singular book.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1944-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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