THE TESTAMENT OF JUDITH BARTON

Last time the world heard from Judy Barton she was tumbling out of the bell tower at Mission San Juan Bautista to her death, but it turns out the ethereal beauty of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece Vertigo has more to say.

Barton is telling her own tale this time around, and she’s just as frustratingly enigmatic as she ever was in the movies—but that turns out to be a good thing. Initially, the flat, first-person narrative feels bogged down in the banality of Barton’s pre-San Francisco existence. The years she spends growing up in America’s heartland in a picture-perfect nuclear family carry the verisimilitude of tranquility, and tragedy is a foregone conclusion. It takes a while to escape it all (or is that merely subterfuge, à la Alfred?), and there are layers of chaos roiling just below the calm, much like the Hitchcock classic itself. Authors Powers and McLeod have a lot to say about the suppression of women during America’s “Happy Days,” and they do so quite deftly. The plot picks up in the final third of the book as Barton’s date with the bell tower looms, and she’s revealed as the most fantastic cipher—most tragically to herself, and all but oblivious to the deepening depths of her own anger and desolation. All of which, sadly, makes her the perfect pigeon for Gavin Elster’s elaborate machinations to murder his wife and make it look like suicide. The authors could have easily used numerous inside references to the cinematic Vertigo but instead show restraint. (A Jake “Stewart” posing as a disappointing love interest for Barton shows up suspiciously at one point, but that’s about it.) Ultimately, this is a serious work. Barton doesn’t acquit herself a half century after her fatal plunge, but she does spread the blame around to where it belongs.   A multifaceted journey for devotees of Vertigo to contemplate and enjoy.

 

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0615589848

Page Count: 181

Publisher: PM Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2012

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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