From the first page, this novel grips us with an acutely sensitive rendition of a mentally handicapped man's inner world.

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THE BIRDS

The point of view of a mentally simple man provides a poignant perspective on day-to-day events in this novel from Norway.

Vesaas (1897-1970; The Ice Palace, 1963) originally published this novel in 1957, but it has a freshness that can only be due to its timeless subject matter. Mattis, 37, lives with his sister Hege, 40, in a cottage in the woods. Gently mocked by villagers (who call him Simple Simon), Mattis clings to what sense he can make of things, often attributing miraculous significance to small events such as the flight of a woodcock over his house. He eagerly tells anyone who will listen, most often Hege, about the small moments that have filled him with overwhelming feeling. Life is full of drama for him, but we see through his eyes (and clever, subtle narration) that his sister is miserable, feeling trapped in drudgery. She knits sweaters for a living and soon asks Mattis to go look for some work. Thus begin several adventures for Mattis, which include becoming an impromptu ferryman for two attractive girls who are unexpectedly gentle with him, allowing him to carry them to shore in town so he can impress the villagers. Each turn of events prompts an elaborate sense of wonder and optimism in Mattis. The tension between him and the unhappy Hege works well as a form of suspense, as Mattis fears she will get fed up and leave him, and the reader wonders the same thing. But just as their duo seems stalled in unhappy stasis, Mattis happens to ferry home a lumberjack, Jørgen, who becomes Hege's love interest. Some of the novel's exquisite control slackens in the last section, as Jørgen's actions are surprisingly predictable (however contradictory that seems), and Hege's rescue from loneliness has a “too good to be true” feeling. Nothing is truly smooth, however, which is a sadness built into every page of a story about a character like Mattis. And despite lulls, the novel is compelling enough to pull you along to the very end.

From the first page, this novel grips us with an acutely sensitive rendition of a mentally handicapped man's inner world.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-914-67120-6

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged White mom and her Black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a Black boy hoping to go with a White girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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