Emotional complications add a fresh note to an abuse theme that’s seen heavy use in recent decades.

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THE RAT TREE

In this novella set in 1950s Oregon, a girl and her cousins put on a play to catch the conscience of their abusive grandfather.

In summertime, a large family comes together for regular visits at Grandma and Grandpa Scheibert’s Oregon place, which features homemade cookies, a swimming pool, and an old two-story woolen mill full of interesting things. But to reach the mill, visitors first have to pass the rat tree. This summer, the narrator—a girl in early pubescence—is coming to some realizations, most importantly about Grandpa. His smile is “devious, disturbing”; he leers at women, including his daughters; and when the grandkids pile on for a hug, he pushes his fingers inside the narrator’s “private area.” When she begins shouting “Run from Grandpa!,” her own mother admonishes her, suggesting a deep-rooted family sickness. Nevertheless, the narrator instructs her sisters to yell “RUN FROM GRANDPA” as loud as possible if he should ever touch them inappropriately. With her sympathetic cousin Carl, the narrator explores their grandfather’s trunks in the mill’s attic, uncovering in old letters references to the Fatherland and a mother who was cruel to him. Carl and the narrator vow to protect their younger cousins, making them pledge to run if Grandpa tries anything. With her cousins, the narrator puts on a play based on Grandpa’s papers that’s designed to expose his childhood hurts—with explosive and distressing results beyond what she’d reckoned. The doubly painful topics of Nazism and incestuous child abuse could become sensationalistic, but Carr (The Ballad of Desiree, 2016, etc.) avoids this through her narrator’s point of view, limited because of age and inexperience. The girl just wants to put a stop to Grandpa’s abuse through whatever practical means are available, but darker undercurrents flow through the story, particularly in the image of the rat. The narrator sees her methods as innocent, but the tale’s ending suggests it’s not that simple. In telling secrets, she too could be considered a rat, and she feels “sick and sorry.” The mixed-media illustrations by Iida (Rattan Woman, 2018, etc.) feature a cut-paper technique and have a vintage feel that goes well with the text.

Emotional complications add a fresh note to an abuse theme that’s seen heavy use in recent decades.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-985577-82-4

Page Count: 56

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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