An ambitious attempt undermined by an aimless plot and flat dialogue.

A Hero For Our Time

Putala’s debut explores unrequited love and other hardships in this coming-of-age novel set at a Northeastern college.

Jamie Tarnowski, a student at Amherst College, is infatuated with classmate Jessica Dorfmann, aka “the Princess.” Although Jamie maintains a busy social life on campus, he suffers regular rejection from Jessica. When he isn’t thinking about her, Jamie ponders the lives of writers and hopes to join their ranks. His ties to the town of Amherst are complicated: His mother graduated from University of Massachusetts Amherst, where his father was a professor. As a child, Jamie asked his mother to explain the difference between the state university and the private college. She told him Amherst College is “where you get to go if you’re very smart and very lucky. People of privilege send their sons there.” Despite this promising setup, Jamie’s story grows dull and repetitive. Too many characters appear, yet too few are sufficiently described. Conversations are cluttered with small talk, and the richer dialogue flirts with pontification. “Does liberal arts still exist?” Jamie asks his father. When his father suggests that “a college can become a place for vocational training,” Jamie responds that the pressure to earn money “could totally take humanity off whatever positive track it might be on, and just become this cold world where everyone works for the economy and there’s no higher meaning or beauty or anything like that.” Jamie’s thoughts are often variations on clichés: “You can lead a horse to water, but fail in making him drink it” or “Life comes at you in waves.” Presumably pivotal moments—a car accident, a physical threat, the death of the family dog—are glossed over, while classroom discussion is presented in excessive detail. Even the Princess remains underdeveloped and opaque.

An ambitious attempt undermined by an aimless plot and flat dialogue.

Pub Date: June 21, 2010

ISBN: 978-1434874528

Page Count: 268

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2012

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A fast-paced, engaging trip to the heart of a bachelor, without enough plausibility or dimension.

THE ALASKAN STING

In Herold’s debut novel, a young, womanizing boozehound struggles to catch up with his elusive Alaska-bound cruise ship.

Young, single Tom Courier has just been gifted an all-expenses-paid trip aboard the Nordic Princess, courtesy of his cousin and co-worker, Scott. His objective: two weeks of bourbon-soaked, coitus-filled relaxation. Things seem on track after he achieves his objective an hour into his initial connecting flight. From there, however, his plans veer wildly off course: A bomb detonates on the plane’s wing, forcing an emergency landing in Portland. Tom misses the Princess’ departure, but his luggage finds its way on board and serves as motivation throughout the story for him to reach the ship. Unfazed, Tom seizes the opportunity to spend an erotic evening with Mandy—the “cougar” he met on the plane—in a secluded hideaway in the Oregon wilderness. Herold’s ominous foreshadowing hints at Tom’s impending misfortune, and trouble continues to lurk just below the surface for much of the novel. The author maintains sufficient momentum as his protagonist pushes on, inching ever closer to reaching his stateroom aboard the seafaring vessel. Yet an ensuing stream of uncannily coincidental mishaps keeps him perpetually one step behind. On his next layover, in British Columbia, Tom finds himself in another love affair, this time with a local surfing champion named Giata. In increasingly predictable fashion, this fling proves more urgent than catching the ship, of which Tom remains in tepid pursuit. Unfortunately, Tom’s seemingly one-track mind accentuates his shallow depth of character and risks preventing many readers from relating to him. Following another airplane crash, Tom finds himself in the port town of Ketchikan, Alaska, engaging in yet another romance with a local beauty. There, he’s hurled inexplicably into a two-man campaign to track down a mythical, luck-bringing sea beast. The story’s rapid pace continues at the expense of character development, while typos throughout further distract from the more subtle plot threads Herold attempts to weave. Despite the lulling effect of its rhythmic, seemingly inevitable series of calamities, the story revives for a compelling final twist.

A fast-paced, engaging trip to the heart of a bachelor, without enough plausibility or dimension.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468507737

Page Count: 328

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2014

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    Best Books Of 2012

BYE BYE BLACKBIRD

WORLDS PAST AND WORLDS AWAY

Merging geographic precision with detailed lyricism, Berry’s collection of poetry spans continents and states of the soul.

The best poetry focused on a particular locale tends to evoke sensory stimulation as much as meaning, and Berry’s collection of nearly 60 poems is no different. Born in England, the author has travelled widely throughout Africa and the United States. With a doctorate in geography, she casts a discriminating, discerning eye on the landscapes to which her travels have taken her. In unrhymed, compact poems—few more than a page in length—the poet speaks with seriousness about the relationship between the natural world and one’s inner world. In “Music of Place,” she writes: “Carried in the wind is the music of place, blown / like washing on a line, white sheets flapping, sending / large billowing folds of sound back to me,” which typifies her ability to translate a place into a finely detailed, highly specific moment in her past or present. Some poems set in North Africa elevate journallike jottings into sharply etched experiences. The dominant moods suffusing these poems are calm and meditational, perhaps reflecting the influence of poet Elizabeth Bishop, who was also attuned to inner and outer geographies. The final 20 poems shift focus from geography and place to reconciliations or frictions with family members; many relatives have passed on but are vibrantly alive in the author’s memory. These family sketches often turn on a particularly poignant phrase spoken to the author by a parent or loved one: “Windows” pivots on Berry’s father’s comment, “I could drive if I wanted to,” as the author notes that her father never owned a car. Few books of recent poetry reveal such a penetrating awareness of how the environments in which we live affect us as much as we affect them. An extraordinary, nuanced collection by a gifted poet.

 

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1935514749

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Plain View

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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