NOTTS

Too smart for his own good, a hapless American teacher dies in a cynical game between British and Irish political factions in this digressive academic thriller from O'Rourke (Criminal Tendencies, 1987, etc.)—a mix of terrorism, striking coal miners, university trendiness, and a love affair doomed by a seemingly insignificant treachery. Michael O'Dwyer is a professor at a third-rate New Jersey college, on a visit to Nottingham for a conference on George Orwell. Jessie Jackson, a younger woman he meets on the plane, is a starry-eyed radical American labor organizer from Berkeley, traveling to England during the 1985 coal strike to show the colors on behalf of US coal miners. The two have a week together, visiting the doomed strikers and their organizers, shuttling between tourist jaunts and firsthand experience of the worker's despair, that could be the stuff of a slightly more bittersweet David Lodge novel. But as interpolated pages from a British police inquest make clear, something terrible is going to happen to this couple. The details add up: the impression that Michael's Irish name and looks makes during a time of IRA bombings, Jessie's radical naivetÇ, her shabby-sinister English connections, particularly David, who seems tense whenever Michael shows up. The climax finds the couple driving around London in a borrowed car that, we suspect, holds a bomb: Jessie finally admits she was asked by IRA sympathizers back in California to decoy British customs by picking up an Irish- looking male and traveling with him. As she and Michael discuss what they to do, we already know from the inquest that someone- -British MI5, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the IRA—has decided to take lethal preventive action. Too many scenes feel like mini-essays, and characters lecture at the drop of a hat. But fine description, a well-constructed story, and a sympathetic portrayal of the generally overlooked American and British working class carry this one over its dull patches.

Pub Date: May 1, 1996

ISBN: 1-56924-806-0

Page Count: 250

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1996

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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