British novelist Binding (In The Kingdom Of Air, 1994) continues to plumb the dark recesses of jolly old England, but the narrative links are stretched to the limit in this tale of a hangman's knotted existence within interlocking love triangles. Feared executioner Solomon Straw has retired as the story begins, leaving his ropes and his ``stage'' name behind to find peace as a country pub owner with his wife Judith and their infant son. The long tangle of events preceding his return to normalcy and his given name, Jeremiah (Jem) Bembo, however, ranges far from tranquility. Raised with his cousin Will in a family of farmers descended from a famous actor, Jem is ever reserved, while Will yearns for the glitter and patter of the music hall; when the two vie for the affections of young Judith, her choice of the more solid Jem proves a bone of contention for decades. The war changes everything, as a German air raid brings a plane down on the Bembo greenhouses, destroying them and burying a piece of flying glass in newlywed Jem's eye. He watches with crippled vision as his neighbors slowly murder the badly wounded German pilot. Shocked by such brutality, Jem vows to become the most decent and efficient of executioners, even at the cost of his feelings for Judith. But years later, when Dancing Danny steps onto the scaffold for killing a rival in the hopeless pursuit of a local girl, Jem errs in his meticulous procedure, shaken in part by having delivered his firstborn himself only two days before. Then he learns to his horror not only that he has executed an innocent man, but also that the echoes of his earlier rivalry have taken deadly shape in this more recent affair. In its tricky details in the binding up of several hugely different lives, this is a macabre, compelling story, proving powerful in spite of its convolutions and excess.

Pub Date: July 2, 1996

ISBN: 0-385-48412-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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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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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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