All of Boyle’s colorful skills are fully engaged in his latest (as, to be fair, are his tendencies toward redundancy and...

THE WOMEN

When the artist formerly known as T. Coraghessan Boyle burst onto the national literary scene some 30 years ago, readers knew immediately that an immensely smart, versatile and entertaining new writer was staking his claim to some of the territory held by such reader-friendly wizards of narrative and rhetoric as Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Barthelme.

To put it another way, Susan Sontag’s sonorous declamations about the cultural legitimacy of “camp” found a lively correlative in the stories of Boyle’s first collection Descent of Man (1979)—six more have followed. Who could resist crisp, in-your-face tales about the wretched excesses of pillaging Norsemen, or the spectacle of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin disporting himself at a Dadaist arts festival? Then, before we’d all stopped chuckling, Boyle produced his richly imagined and detailed debut novel Water Music (1981), in which historical Scottish explorer Mungo Park’s African exploits became the vehicle for vivid observations and riffs on the nature of intellectual adventuring, heroism and arduously acquired self-knowledge. Boyle’s subsequent novels have ranged from visions of fear and loathing in California’s drug culture to the perils of the Internet—and commanded especially high visibility when reinterpreting well-known American success-and-failure stories, notably in deft fictionalizations of the complicated lives of cereal-king health faddist John Harvey Kellogg (The Road to Wellville, 1993) and innovative sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (The Inner Circle, 2004). The Women, Boyle’s 12th novel, tackles another flawed American icon: the great architect and world-class egomaniac Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), whose unique accomplishments were repeatedly compromised because—as this novel’s narrator informs us—“throughout his life, especially in times of duress, [Wright] sought the company of women.” That narrator—Japanese architectural student Sato Tadashi, who becomes one of numerous “acolytes” laboring unpaid at Wright’s huge Wisconsin estate Taliesin—tells, in reverse order, the stories of Wright’s four great loves: the Montenegrin beauty (Olgivanna) who succeeds his fiery Southern mistress Maude Miriam Noel (a madder, more vituperative Zelda Fitzgerald), Wright’s soul mate Mamah Cheney (whom he appropriates from her husband and children) and first wife Kitty, displaced by Mamah (who, like the doomed edifice of Taliesin, seems chosen to pay for the adulterous genius’s sins).

All of Boyle’s colorful skills are fully engaged in his latest (as, to be fair, are his tendencies toward redundancy and overemphasis). It’s a performance worthy of the writer who has, in interviews and on his informative website, acknowledged the influences of Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh and Gabriel García Márquez. I’d argue that Dickens and Shakespeare also must loom prominently in the imagination of a writer so adept at the creation of improbably beguiling comic grotesques. And Boyle’s warmhearted, coldly calculating, ineffably seductive and unknowable Frank Lloyd Wright may be the most beguiling of them all.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02041-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2008

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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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