A worthy addition to a probably underrated oeuvre that looks better and better as the years pass.

READ REVIEW

LOWELL LIMPETT

AND TWO STORIES

An unusual miscellany from the former ace journalist and author of such sophisticated politically based fiction as National Book Award finalist Echo House (1997).

The volume includes a short story and a novella (both previously uncollected), as well as a one-act play written in 1991. The novella “Born in His Time” is a sardonic cautionary tale cast as a piecemeal remembrance of an ardent young Washington “insider” (the eponymous Born) who joins a prestigious law firm as a temporary career move, loses both his ideals and his rather less principled wife (herself an attorney), then burns out and crashes in early middle age—as we learn from the older colleague who concludes gravely “that Born reminded me of an undefended fortress.” It’s quite smoothly written and deftly paced, though flawed by the distance at which the opaque Born is held from the reader, making it difficult to either feel his pain or fully understand his motivations. Better is the story, “Wasps: The Sting as the Kiss”: a fablelike tale of the marriage between an ambitious, risk-taking politician and (the focal character) his cautious wife, whom a perilous childhood allergy has shaped into a woman who keeps her own counsel and resists taking chances. It’s a neat exercise in irony, which turns on the truth of its protagonist’s wry perception that “All things are not possible”—and, incidentally, a clever reworking of one of Just’s finest early stories, “The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert.” The play, Lowell Limpett, portrays a prizewinning veteran journalist’s embittered memories of career and personal life, as he awaits the axe from his (much younger) managing editor. Though its content is predictable, this savvy chamber piece (slightly reminiscent of Eugene O’Neill’s obscure one-acter Hughie) is enlivened by crisp one-liners and surprisingly playable brief epiphanic moments.

A worthy addition to a probably underrated oeuvre that looks better and better as the years pass.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2001

ISBN: 1-58648-087-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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