A sprawling story about the value of work that ultimately misses the point of redemption.

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NOTHING HAPPENS UNTIL IT HAPPENS TO YOU

It’s only the end of the world for a semi-journalist who loses his lifetime gig.

Florida journalist Shine turns on his profession with this acidly funny but disjointed first novel about a newspaper refugee who takes unemployment harder than most. His Everyman hero is 46-year-old Jeffrey Reiner, the listings editor at a South Florida weekly with an atmosphere so poisonous that the employees flee to happy hour at the first whiff of a layoff. This introduction has a similar vibe to Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End, as Reiner mourns the loss of the humdrum job he’s held for 18 years. His wife, Anna, is a terrifying perfectionist who soon loses patience with Jeffrey’s self-delusions. “All the career counseling and self-help books and job fairs and networking crap—it’s all monotonous and repetitive,” he whines. “There’s too much emphasis on working. They act like nobody can exist without having a great job. There are other things I’m doing. Important things.” Meanwhile, his kids Andrew and Kristin are incensed over the loss of cable and laptop privileges. To deal with his increasing stress, Jeffrey contemplates writing a blog about his plight, spends time with his loser buddies and uses his unemployment counselor as a makeshift shrink. Before long, he’s taking questionable assignments from Omar, a fly-by-night entrepreneur. There are highlights to this dysfunctional odyssey—a major freak-out involving a tire dealer and a disastrous trip to swim with dolphins are two of the book’s best moments. However, for all the zippy dialogue and culturally savvy humor, the story never seems to go anywhere—just like its increasingly tiresome protagonist’s career. The book might appeal to the masses of unemployed workers out there, but its lessons are few and far between.

A sprawling story about the value of work that ultimately misses the point of redemption.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-58985-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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