Reading Pynchon may be likened to what one of his characters says here about deciphering the “equation” presented by the...


Ever since Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), which shared a National Book Award and was given, then denied a Pulitzer Prize (on account of its “obscenity”), it’s been obvious, even to much of the so-called literary establishment, that Thomas Pynchon is one of our contemporary classics: a true polymath, formidably learned and technically unparalleled, who understands as few of his readers can the essential symbiosis between C.P. Snow’s “two cultures” of science and technology. Pynchon’s long-awaited new novel (reportedly 20 years in the making) is a huge and almost uniformly entertaining tale set in the late-18th century and tracing the fortunes and follies of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the British astronomers and surveyors who established the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland that would divide young America between South and North, slaveholding and free—and unite the two scientists, despite their contrasting histories and temperaments, in a continuing quest for knowledge expressed as their “transits” from Old World to New, past to future, ignorance to transcendence. Their story is a contentious chronicle of tasks undertaken and both intellectual and bodily hungers satisfied to varying degrees, on several continents, and in the company of such historical worthies as Franklin and Washington and such scarcely less imposing counterparts as an erudite canine and a mechanical talking duck. Readers who are willing, therefore, to let Pynchon be Pynchon should tune in gratefully to this ambitious novel’s dizzy anachronisms and period fustian (its language closely recalls that of the book it otherwise resembles as well: John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor). Not all will cotton to Pynchon’s unregenerate wordplay (“Sirius business” may be his worst pun, though “Dutch Ado about nothing” runs it close), even if he does find a passable rhyme for “Philadelphia.” But the gags are strictly incidental, in a powerfully imagined vision of worlds in embryo and in collision that weds, as no fiction before, the romance of science with the romance of America.

Reading Pynchon may be likened to what one of his characters says here about deciphering the “equation” presented by the stars in their courses: “A lonely, uncompensated, perhaps even impossible Task,—yet some of us must be ever seeking it, I suppose.”

Pub Date: April 30, 1997

ISBN: 0-8050-3758-6

Page Count: 773

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1997

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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.


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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