Ambitious but unconvincing mix of uplift, tragedy and cartoonish satire.

HOW TO BUY A LOVE OF READING

Debut novelist Gibson attempts to combine a snarky lampoon of super and nouveau riche cultural striving with a heartfelt coming-of-age story. She throws in a metafictional critique of metafiction for good measure.

In the Long Island, N.Y., town of Fox Glen, the wealthy, generally doltish residents vie to show how highbrow they are. So it’s not much of a stretch when a sweetly boorish bra-manufacturing magnate and his cartoonishly cold wife hire a writer to create a book for their daughter Carley’s sweet-sixteen party. The book will be a cultural coup. Besides, Carley’s teachers have complained about her lack of intellect, and Carley’s parents hope that involving her in the writing will prove motivating. Overweight Carley hates books and has few friends except Hunter—a big exception since he’s the most popular boy in the high school. A handsome if sickly lothario who drinks to serious excess when he isn’t reading or working on his application essay for Princeton, Hunter considers Carley his best friend and depends on her for all his platonic emotional needs. Her feelings are less platonic, and she repeatedly forgives him for behaving badly under the influence. Bree, the starving author of a novel, is hired to write Carley’s book, thanks to Justin, a famous writer living in Fox Glen seclusion since a fan attacked him. Justin knew Bree in college, treated her badly and has been secretly atoning every since. As Justin and Bree skirt around their relationship, they genuinely try to help Carley, but Carley cannot face that Hunter’s addiction to alcohol and drugs is becoming worse. The drunken scenes, the acting outs and the apologies repeat themselves in various forms until the reader loses track. Hunter’s downward spiral is offset by various witticisms surrounding Carley’s SAT vocabulary malapropisms; the excessively obnoxious behavior of various parents and rich friends; and Bree, Justin and Hunter’s literary debates.

Ambitious but unconvincing mix of uplift, tragedy and cartoonish satire.

Pub Date: May 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-525-95114-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2009

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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