We know what’s coming, but so do the characters—that’s part of this tale’s bittersweet power.


After the National Book Award–winning Charming Billy (1998), McDermott returns to the familiar turf of her earlier fiction: East Hampton and the inner life of a precocious girl one crucial summer.

Theresa lives a quietly secure life as the only child of doting, middle-aged Irish Catholic parents with upwardly mobile aspirations. By the summer she is 15, Theresa—the name’s saintly resonance may strike readers as a bit obvious—is not only lovely but wise and kind as well, adored by the young children and animals she cares for. In contrast, her eight-year-old cousin, “Poor Daisy,” is mousy, pale, and generally overlooked among a cramped houseful of siblings in Queens Village. Sorry for Daisy and also sensing a special kinship of imagination, Theresa invites the younger girl to East Hampton for the summer. Daisy arrives with pink plastic sandals she won’t take off. When Theresa stumbles across the reason—bruises on Daisy’s feet and body she can’t explain—a sense of foreboding falls like a shadow of death across the summer. But the foreboding is sexual as well. Theresa and Daisy spend most of their days babysitting the two-year-old daughter of a famous artist. When his much younger wife decamps one morning after letting Theresa know she may be the painter’s next conquest, Theresa finds herself both repulsed and attracted. Day by day, as Daisy’s health deteriorates, Theresa’s sexuality ripens. Meanwhile, the ever-observant Theresa is silent witness to the tragedies rippling under her community’s placid surface: neglected children desperate for affection; a divorced father whose longing for his children almost perverts him; the “tweedy” dowager whose overbearing cheerfulness masks maternal grief. Though hobbled by a tendency toward sentimentality and self-consciousness, McDermott sculpts her small story with a meticulous eye for the telling detail and transcendent metaphor.

We know what’s coming, but so do the characters—that’s part of this tale’s bittersweet power.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2002

ISBN: 0-374-12123-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2002

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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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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