Palmer's first novel-about a narrator's obsession with a beautiful woman who writes about spinach-is a lushly written narrative that brings to mind a Julian Barnes or Anthony Burgess rather than any American. The narrator is a struggling ``chunky, paranoid, poltroonish poet'' who ekes out a living selling paper cups of shrimp and crab to tourists in San Francisco before happening upon his true vocation: to love and serve as ``tester and taster and muse'' to Maria Perpetua (``born Maria Pengulling''), who is ``a demiurge, an oracle'' devoted-after a childhood consisting of equal portions of squalor and ``pink, puffy nonsense''-to writing The Gastronomic Hejira. In short, Maria is a quirky gourmet with a flair for prose. Once she reaches S.F., she takes on a female lover and feeds her into plumpness, whereupon she meets the male narrator, who quickly begins an ``inscrutable courtship'' (``By cooking, Maria was making love to me''). While the narrator helps with her manuscript, which focuses finally on spinach (spinacea oleracea), we treated to (or forced to bear, depending on your attitude) various lyrical descriptions of spinach dishes. Our narrator then undergoes a dark night of the soul, after which Maria finds a publisher and succeeds with her offbeat book beyond anyone's expectations. Meanwhile, the narrator, who has lost her, comes to write The Florentine Papers as ``a personal cleansing,'' and the story, surprisingly enough, even manages to descend into underclass pathos (via a subplot) while maintaining its cholesterol-laden style, finally ending with a whimper instead of a bang. His prose can be rich to the point of flatulence, but, still, Palmer's devised an original magical mystery tour that stakes out its own peculiar portion of the comic universe.

Pub Date: April 5, 1991

ISBN: 0-87905-364-X

Page Count: 160

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1991

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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