A careful, well-made chronicle of a man's attempt to dredge up childhood abuse and of his later confrontation with his father. Aitken's second (Terre Haute, 1989)—though sometimes too programmatic—builds to a moving finale that refuses to simplify events. Daniel Kenning, well-married to Leslie, is an award-winning architect. But when the death of an acquaintance oddly touches him, he begins to understand—also thanks to the help of a female therapist—how much of his life has been repressed. Emotionally withdrawn from his own family, and assuming that's the way things must be, Daniel remembers (with therapeutic aid) his own adolescent homosexuality, savage beatings from his father, and, finally, sexual abuse. At times this is all laid out too neatly—Daniel on the couch deftly being led by the miraculous therapist to the secret of the family romance—but Aitken, once he gets all the background into the story, picks up the narrative nicely when Daniel goes home, Ö la Roseanne Barr and many others, to ``break the silence.'' Aitken dazzles the rest of the way, carefully sidestepping easy melodrama. Daniel's father, a retired cosmetic surgeon, and his mother are both unwilling to admit the truth of the past, and Daniel's mother sends her son away after the inevitable confrontation. Back home, Leslie suggests a separation, and Daniel goes to Japan for a bout of landscape architecture, where he has a kind of epiphany and a tender nonsexual night with a young man before returning home when his father is taken ill. By the close, only Daniel's own family life is resolved—he is now able to love his wife and boys without holding back. Occasionally too much is telegraphed too soon, but Aitken's novel, articulate and impressive, handles a controversial issue engagingly while mostly staying away from therapeutic jargon or easy answers.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 1993

ISBN: 0-671-74707-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1992

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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