by William Styron ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 11, 1976
More than once in this smugly autobiographical novel, Styron pouts about how his last book, The Confessions of Nat Turner, drew accusations of exploitation, accusations that "I had turned to my own profit and advantage the miseries of slavery." And Sophie's Choice will probably draw similar accusations about Styron's use of the Holocaust: his new novel often seems to be a strong but skin-deep psychosexual melodrama that's been artificially heaped with import by making one of the characters—Sophie—a concentration-camp survivor. Her full name is Sophie Zawistowska, and she's the only other non-Jewish tenant in the Flatbush boarding house where narrator "Stingo," the young Styron, comes to attempt his first novel in 1947 after a brief nightmare as a reader at McGraw-Hill. Virtually virginal Stingo, of course, lusts like crazy after gorgeously 30-ish Sophie, but she is noisily, hotly in love with Nathan Landau, the brilliant, erratic biologist who nursed immigrant Sophie back to health after meeting her in the library. Soon Nathan, Sophie, and Stingo are a bouncy threesome, smiling together through Coney Island picnics or suffering together whenever Nathan has one of his irrational, jealous, abusive fits. And Sophie begins to reveal to Stingo, layer by layer, her guilty secrets: how she was both victim and accomplice at Auschwitz, playing the role of anti-Semite to ingratiate herself with officials; how she was willing to use her body to gain advantages; how she was forced to choose which of her two young children would die in the gas chamber. These reminiscences give Styron an opportunity to expound on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, and to give the novel an ostensible unity: "Someday I will write about Sophie's life and death, and thereby help demonstrate how absolute evil is never extinguished from the world." But Sophie's death—a suicide pact with Nathan (who's soon exposed as a certifiable lunatic) after a brief but elaborate roll in the hay with Stingo—is only tenuously linked to the evil of Auschwitz; it's more in the good old Southern-gothic tradition. And when Styron tells us that Stingo has learned through Sophie about "death, and pain, and loss, and the appalling enigma of human existence," the pomposity seems unsupported, unearned by Stingo/Styron. Lesser problems too: the clumsy narrative shifts in the Auschwitz flashbacks, the impossibly ornate dialogue, the self-dramatizing, the diminishing returns of Styron's "encyclopedic ability to run on and on about a subject." Still, with all that said, Styron is a born writer, and when he's just storytelling—and not playing the dubious role of Great American Writer and Thinker—there's enough detailed, vigorous, sheer readability here to sustain even some of those readers bound to be turned off by the sticky contrivances and hollow pretentions.
Pub Date: June 11, 1976
Page Count: 580
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1979
Share your opinion of this book
by Sally Rooney ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 16, 2019
Absolutely enthralling. Read it.
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2019
New York Times Bestseller
A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!
Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.Absolutely enthralling. Read it.
Pub Date: April 16, 2019
Page Count: 288
Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019
Share your opinion of this book
More About This Book
BOOK TO SCREEN
by Mark Z. Danielewski ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 6, 2000
The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...
An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.
Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad. The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized). As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses). Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture. Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly. One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.
Pub Date: March 6, 2000
Page Count: 704
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000
Share your opinion of this book
Hey there, book lover.
We’re glad you found a book that interests you!