Insouciant, twee, and aphoristic, Rutkowski’s voice handily skewers stupidity.

VIOLENT OUTBURSTS

Rutkowski’s new flash-fiction compendium covers the gamut of hipster angst.

These 86 stories, most no longer than a page, resemble prose poems in that they highlight a single motif. Plot and storytelling play second fiddle to an Oulipo-esque obsession with language and wordplay. Puns abound, testing the average Anglophone’s tolerance for such contrivances: “When I hear ‘ice pack,’ I reach for an ice pick” (“Freon Drunk”); “Greekness, not Geekiness” (“If I Were He”); a linkage of “tantric” and “tantrum” (“At the Ayurvedic Center”). The proliferation of M’s in “McDonald’s Mania” goads McDonald’s own alliterative copy to hilarious extremes. Alliteration renders scatology sophisticated in “Caught in the Worst Way.” With additional insights bespeaking, perhaps, the perspective of maturity, Rutkowski reiterates themes and episodes covered in his earlier work (Haywire, 2010, etc.). These include tremulous childhood, subpar education, soul-sucking employment, the artist on the margins, the Asian-American experience, urban life, and the transgressive joys of tobacco. Stories often involve a turn that morphs the mundane into incipient madness, as in the OCD manifesto “Departure Checklist.” The unnamed first-person narrator common to all these short-shorts evinces alienation as he observes how his childhood pets’ feeding habits very closely resemble his own (“Pet-Food Dishes”), remarks on the vagaries of outdoor plumbing (“Our Basic Outhouse”), and imagines the palate of a dung beetle (“This Is the Shit”). Underwater real estate ownership is deplored in “Our Place.” In “Fuck the Dumb,” Rutkowski indulges in one of his favorite pursuits: disparaging literary conferences. A few stories, though, read like writing exercises picked up at those same conferences: “In College” begins every sentence with “I liked” or “I didn’t like.” In “UFOs,” each paragraph leads off with some variation of “The saucer man led us all away,” a device evoking a sestina or villanelle. As with a poetry collection, the stories here give up their full riches only on repeated reading.

Insouciant, twee, and aphoristic, Rutkowski’s voice handily skewers stupidity.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941550-58-8

Page Count: 124

Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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