30

Novelist and storywriter Dixon (Sleep, p. 102, etc.) offers a big, generous, free-form fictional autobiography of his alter ego—husband, father, and writer-teacher Gould Bookbinder (who first appeared in 1997’s Gould). It develops in an unusual way: 30 separate chapters (arranged in apparently random order) detail both real and imaginary experiences, crowned by the book length “Ends” (itself containing 15 substantial sub-chapters) that considers possible ways in which this story itself might have concluded (for example, a moving sequence entitled “The Brother” dreams what if . . . an older brother who died young had instead grown up to become his sibling’s intellectual soulmate and rival). Many chapters explore Gould’s relationships with his wife Sally (a victim of multiple sclerosis) and their two daughters (“Accidents and Mishaps” is an especially acute dramatization of parental fears). Others (such as “Everything Goes” and “The Burial”) examine his feelings about—and attempts to care for—his distant mother and scarcely known father; sexual fact and fantasy (“Popovers” unsparingly describes his foolish infatuation with a young waitress at a Maine resort, and “The Bellydancer” amusingly recounts the young Gould’s victimization by an older woman’s erotic gamesmanship) or discrete accidents (in “The Suicide,” Gould’s reaction when a casual acquaintance violently takes his own life exfoliates into a complex, funny threnody on his own preoccupation with death). Dixon’s sedulously plain style and penchant for stream-of-consciousness monologues and long run-on paragraphs make for a sometimes wearying read, but over the long haul his gamble pays off: we observe his thoughtful, egoistic, sometimes faithless protagonist in so many recognizably human situations that it’s impossible to deny his essential resemblance to all of us. Best read in conjunction with Gould, though also quite accessible on its own—and probably Dixon’s best so far.

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8050-5923-7

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

This new Baldwin novel is told by a 19-year-old black girl named Tish in a New York City ghetto about how she fell in love with a young black man, Fonny. He got framed on a rape charge and she got pregnant before they could marry and move into their loft; but Tish and her family Finance a trip to Puerto Rico to track down the rape victim and rescue Fonny, a sculptor with slanted eyes and treasured independence. The book is anomalous for the 1970's with its Raisin in the Sun wholesomeness. It is sometimes saccharine, but it possesses a genuinely sweet and free spirit too. Along with the reflex sprinkles of hate-whitey, there are powerful showdowns between the two black families, and a Frieze of people who — unlike Fonny's father — gave up and "congregated on the garbage heaps of their lives." The style wobbles as Tish mixes street talk with lyricism and polemic and a bogus kind of Young Adult hesitancy. Baldwin slips past the conflict between fighting the garbage heap and settling into a long-gone private chianti-chisel-and-garret idyll, as do Fonny and Tish and the baby. But Baldwin makes the affirmation of the humanity of black people which is all too missing in various kinds of Superfly and sub-fly novels.

Pub Date: May 24, 1974

ISBN: 0307275930

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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