A novel that moves like a great Broadway comedy, rich with superbly etched characters and cannonball momentum, starring perhaps Groucho Marx in his first straight role as a semi-David Merrick-styled egoist producer. First, though, Ben Riller is himself, a producer with 14 hits out of 17 shows, a natural magnet for production money. Unhappily, Riller has fallen for a verse play (he'd written one himself many odd years ago), the first to be staged on the Great White Way in 30 years, and capital has not come in. All of Riller's old investors know in their bones that this one is a dog. It's now five weeks from opening, and he's spent the 20%, a crime, since moneys in escrow can't legally be spent until the full 100% capitalization is solid. Now Riller must turn to Nick Manucci, a moneylender who will give him the necessary $426,000 at 10% interest weekly, plus the lion's share of Riller's 50% of the show, plus Riller signing over all his possessions in case of default. All on a show in verse! And default is unthinkable, since breaking legs is one of Manucci's kinder forms of persuasion—aside from his leaving the Riller family houseless and penniless. Some of Riller's agony may be familiar personally to Stein, whose publishing house, Stein & Day, went bottoms up in 1989 (A Feast for Lawyers, 1989), but something has gone right for Stein in this novel, his strongest and best- tailored ever (The Resort, 1979). Riller is an extremely likable character, who talks with—and is accompanied everywhere by—his father's wise-speaking ghost, while the wonderfully villainous Manucci, a perfect foil much like Runyon characters once played by Sheldon Leonard, undergoes a stupefying character reversal that satisfies utterly. Not high art—but razor-sharp. Waiting for film.

Pub Date: July 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-679-40231-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1991

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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