A promising debut that studies hard-luck types from new and provocative perspectives.



People get uncomfortably close to their primal tendencies in this debut story collection that highlights the quirky and uncanny.

Pierce’s stories feel like they’re set within spitting distance of George Saundersville and occupied by residents whose need for normalcy is complicated by the inescapable strangeness of our natures. In “Shirley Temple Three,” the host of a TV show dedicated to reviving extinct animals deposits a surreptitiously freed “dwarf mammoth” with his mother. When the host goes AWOL, his mother is forced to see how well her maternal instincts will work with the creature, and the story becomes funny but surprisingly touching as well. Pierce persistently tests the ways that creatures shed light on our own inscrutability: In “Saint Possy,” an animal skull of unknown provenance unsettles a relationship; in the title story, a zoo exhibit is supposed to help the narrator connect with his girlfriend’s son but does the opposite; and “We of the Present Age” is a historical tale about a naturalist who’s propositioned to present his discovery of dinosaur bones as a lurid and highly unscientific circus attraction. But Pierce can stick with Homo sapiens to convey his perspective on humanity. In “More Soon,” the collection’s strongest story, a man awaits the delivery of his dead brother’s body, which has become entangled in the bureaucracy of an international crisis; Pierce finds the dark humor in officialese (“R has been declared a biological weapon. Will call with more after Thanksgiving”) while exploring the more sober tension of seeking closure after loss. Not every story is successfully provocative—“Felix Not Arriving” is a relatively conventional squabble-during-a–family-visit tale, while “Videos of People Falling Down” is an overly loose set of sketches questioning our urge to mock others’ online foibles. But Pierce clearly has talent to burn.

A promising debut that studies hard-luck types from new and provocative perspectives.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59463-252-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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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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