Although overly schematic, Otto makes these eight women and the differing lenses through which they view the 20th century...

EIGHT GIRLS TAKING PICTURES

Otto (A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity, 2002, etc.) combines a paean to the art form with an argument for women’s rights in these interlocking stories of eight fictional woman photographers, clearly inspired by actual photographers, over the course of the 20th century.

While studying photochemistry in 1909 Dresden, Cymbeline discovers a soul mate in her middle-aged professor. The handful of photographs that record their brief, doomed affair are lost when a maid sets fire to Cymbeline’s San Francisco studio in 1917. Married to someone else by then and expected to put her domestic responsibilities first, Cymbeline abandons her work in portraiture but finds an outlet in photographing her garden. Slightly younger British photographer Amadora’s commitment to the art form is initially more a matter of happenstance and suffragette dabbling than passion. But when her husband returns damaged from World War I, Amadora uses color photography to create a world for him. Italian-born Clara, who lives in San Francisco’s artistic circles before moving to Mexico in the 1920s, is undone by her intertwining passions for art, men and politics. In contrast, wealthy N.Y. socialite Ellen, raised to separate love from sex, avoids intimacy in life or photography until she becomes a photojournalist in World War II. After escaping 1930s Germany, Jewish photographer and lesbian/bohemian Charlotte marries for security and moves to Argentina, but her true love remains another woman. The contradictory pull between romantic love and family becomes more complicated when her career takes off. Miri feels trapped in post-WWII domesticity until she starts photographing Manhattan from her apartment window, and the tension of domestic love energizes her creativity. Cymbeline has already emerged as the novel’s uniting presence by the time she visits Miri’s exhibit. 1970s radical feminist Jessie interviews Cymbeline, picking up some hard-won advice. Coming full circle in 1980 is domestic free-spirit Jenny, whose photography of her children is labeled pornographic.

Although overly schematic, Otto makes these eight women and the differing lenses through which they view the 20th century hard to forget.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-8269-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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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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