A tenacious exploration of identity and bad-hair memory in the ’70s suburbs.

THE BEGINNING OF CALAMITIES

A caustic, improbably entertaining debut: an 11-year-old stages Christ’s Passion for his Catholic school on 1970s Long Island, allowing him to enact the drama of his incipient homosexuality.

Spazzy and prone to stuttering at the forbidden game of Keep Away, fifth-grader Danny Burke decides to write an Easter play in order to stay in at recess and avoid being subjected to his peers’ merciless bullying. His working-class mother, Carol, pushing 40 and with two troublesome older boys already moved out and a husband who’s never around, can’t be bothered; she insists only that Danny play a minor role in the production so as not to embarrass himself (and her). Danny’s mod teacher at Our Lady, Liz Kaigh, fresh out of college, seizes enthusiastically on the idea of the play and garners permission from principal Sister Regina to stage it. But when few of the popular children volunteer for roles, Liz—calling herself “Queen of the Lepers”—is left directing a ragtag group of outcasts and misfits. Danny, who longs to play Christ despite his teacher’s grave misgivings, finds his increasingly ecstatic identification with the vilified Son of Man a sensuous expression of his homosexual yearnings, especially regarding whipping and nudity. He creates a special biblical kindred spirit, Arram, who lounges naked in his room and encourages Danny to be true to his nature by, for example, streaking across the backyard. As the moment of the performance nears, mishaps mount, and Danny sabotages the other Jesus-es so the role, at the last minute, falls to him, while Liz and Carol create mythical personas of each other thanks to Danny’s fearful embarrassment that they might ever meet. They do, and the play is staged in a resounding finale as snickeringly silly as it is gratifying. House brings an ironic verisimilitude to the scrappy fifth-graders and two leading women—yet an underlying sarcasm leaves an aftertaste of wistful cynicism.

A tenacious exploration of identity and bad-hair memory in the ’70s suburbs.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-882593-69-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bridge Works

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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

FLY AWAY

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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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