A FROLIC OF HIS OWN

Greed and its destruction of independent authenticity is Gaddis's best subject, and with it here he has essentially rewritten his masterpiece, JR (1975)—not so much with business as the focus (as in that earlier book) but with lawyers. A ne'er-do-well college instructor, Oscar Crease, has written a long, sludgy philosophical Civil War play that he once sent off desperately to a TV producer; years later, a Hollywood blockbuster movie seems to duplicate (though only in Crease's mind) some of the stuff in the play. Crease sues—plagiarism—and is promptly sucked down into wholesale legal disaster: depositions, bills, opinions, more bills, appeals, more bills, bills and bills. His half-sister Christina and her establishment law-firm partner husband try to steer him through—but everyone gets drowned in the tidal wave of litigiousness. Meanwhile, Crease's own elderly father, a federal judge, is, as a sidebar, a stereoscopic whack at the legal system, simultaneously ruling on a case involving a dog killed while stuck in a piece of public sculpture (the book's most mordantly funny set-piece). Here, like JR, the novel is one of voices that are remarkably faithful to the real patterns of speech—interrupted, trivial, saying most when no one else seems to be listening. Paragraphs of speeded-up narrative link the voices, which are also interspersed now and then with depositions and judicial opinions. Gaddis's paranoid comedy of skepticism (some of it fairly cheap: a director named Jonathan Livingston Siegel, a car company called Sosumi Motors) pushes relentlessly forward... ...but if you've read a quarter of the book, you've read the whole thing: clever and brilliant though it is, it feels like a massive imposition on your time. Gaddis seems to want to prove the novel capable of film's open mike and panning shots, music's structure, and opera's recitatives (everyone only screeches and beseeches)—but once he has, all that finally seems left is a rather tinny note of pissed-off energy and formal subordination.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-671-66984-2

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1993

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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