SCRIBNER'S BEST OF THE FICTION WORKSHOPS 1997

A rather depressing glimpse of things to come, culled from the rising talents of some 20 writing programs nationwide by Hoffman (Practical Magic, 1995, etc.), who blithely and somewhat terrifyingly informs us that ``what's in these pages is only the start.'' All the standard criticisms of writing-program prose—its flatness, dullness, lack of depth—are well-illustrated by the selections found here. Almost all are narrated by or from the point of view of people who are young and confused at the start and who make very little progress by the end of pieces that are, in fact, mostly portraits rather than stories. The young WASP of Lindsay Fleming's ``The Slipper'' manages to lose his father, get married, disgrace himself, and go crazy all without the least intimation of drama: His decline comes about as naturally as the winding-down of a cocktail party. In Denise Simard's ``Tallulah at Your Feet,'' a badly stalled college grad walks dogs for a living and dates a boring lout for no good reason other than loneliness and sloth; the pathetic crush she develops on a married man, offered as the climax, is described triumphantly though it seems merely desperate. The best entries tend to be the ``culture narratives''—e.g., Caroline Cheng's ``Consolation'' or Julie Rold's ``Bloodlines''- -which describe and take place within a cohesive and well-defined social milieu, the Philippines, say, or the German communities of the Midwest, more successful mainly because they're the more likely to rely upon narration, description, and plot for effect. Most of the others—like Adam Schroeder's ``The Distance Between Prague and New Orleans'' (a narcissistic actor fakes an epiphany in a cemetery)—seem to be engaging in various forms of self-absorption or self-analysis that may be good for the authors' souls but does little for their writing. Dreadfully dull and unbearably pompous. If really a foretaste of literary trends, to be read while weeping.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-83314-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1996

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A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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