THE FREE FALL OF WEBSTER CUMMINGS

Bodett, of Motel 6 commercial and NPR fame, author of collections of homespun vignettes such as The End of the Road (1989), offers a flawed but often moving first novel. Webster Cummings, a Boston statistician, falls from an airplane over New Hampshire but happens to land in perfect tandem with the angle of a ski slope. He slides into the valley below and uphill again, then is catapulted to his feet like some sort of superhero. This near-death experience causes Webster to reassess his thus far inconsequential life: An adoptee, he becomes obsessed with finding his real mother and father. From this grand and amusing, if unlikely, premise, Bodett begins peeling away layers of mystery, beginning in Alaska with a teenaged couple banned by a cruel old patriarch for sleeping together out of wedlock, then to Ohio, Indiana, Seattle, and the fruit country of north-central Oregon—where most of the story is set. No doubt about it, Bodett loves his small-town folk and does them beautifully: a fragile, naãve Ohio couple who trade in their home for a gas-guzzling RV and go visit the children who don't want to see them; a dreamy, homeless man who wanders the Seattle waterfront, reporting for his various ``jobs''; a heavy equipment operator who loses his arm in an accident, drifts toward alcoholism, and finds redemption in bringing to life a failed peach orchard. Just as often, Bodett is a masterful light satirist: His portrait of a bicoastal yuppie couple having their first baby is a scream. When it comes to plotting, however, Bodett is a third-rate Dickens, relying on contrivance and coincidence to bring his huge cast together. So the only reason to read him is his people, who break your heart. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 4, 1996

ISBN: 0-7868-6209-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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