Despite the lightning at its center, a novel that throws off few sparks.

A TRICK OF NATURE

Matson (The Hunger Moon, 1997) covers the familiar territory of suburban marital angst in this caring but rather enervated novel about a couple who take their marriage for granted until lightning strikes, literally. Greg and Patty Goodman were high-school sweethearts. Twenty years later, Greg is a likable, not terribly ambitious high-school teacher, Patty an accountant `Superwoman` who keeps her home spotless and family well nurtured. Satisfied with their marriage, their two-story house, their adolescent twin daughters, and their still-youthful figures, the two seem ripe for a fall. It comes during a routine practice of the junior-varsity football team Greg coaches, when a 15-year-old player is fatally struck by lightning. While Greg's responsibility is settled by lawsuits, the accident brings out his moral vulnerabilities, which in turn release hidden needs in Patty. Switching back and forth between the spouses' points of view, Matson shows more skill portraying men than women. Rigid Patty never comes to life, and her softened personality at the end is never earned. Greg's behavior is increasingly sleazy, particularly when he becomes involved with the dead boy Tim's long-lost mother, yet the choices he makes are less predictable than Patty's, and he wins the reader's sympathy. On stage only briefly, Matson's most riveting characters are actually Tim himself, who wanted so much to play football, and his gruff yet protective father. Matson allows them an underlying passion missing from the rest of the book.

Despite the lightning at its center, a novel that throws off few sparks.

Pub Date: April 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-393-04854-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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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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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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