This debut novel from Menaker (Friends and Relations, 1976, and The Old Left, 1987, stories) has all its author’s usual strengths and charm in setting, details, and people, though the story itself tries ambitiously for a breadth and weight that never quite convince. Jake Singer’s mother abandoned him when he was six years old by dying of a stroke, and his cardiologist father in effect abandoned him too, not by dying, but through his increasingly self-protective guardedness, stiffness, and reserve—and by effectively cutting his son off when, after college and some grad school in literature at Yale, Jake makes it clear that he’s never going to become a doctor himself. Turn to the 1970s, then, and you—ll find that Jake is 32, single, an English teacher at the Coventry school on Manhattan’s West Side—and in therapy with Dr. Ernesto Morales, the bearded, Cuban, Catholic, cunning, anticommunist shrink who gives wings and a fine, high hilarity to the first third of the story as he baffles, queries, pummels, tricks, lectures, and sometimes drags the hapless though far from unintelligent Jake through —the scourge he called the treatment,— not the least fun being Dr. Morales’s wonderfully (and perfectly) unidiomatic English (—But many questions are wolves hiding in the pants of a sheep—). As Jake, though, gains the self-assertiveness instilled by Dr. Morales and begins achieving more in life, the novel gradually achieves less, creeping into unnecessary complication and nearing the hyperbole of TV-drama—with a lover (later wife) who’s both knockout gorgeous and fabulously rich (with two adopted kids), and a mix of bad guys, a gun, a big packet of coincidences, even a chase in the country. If all this were tongue-in-cheek, the whole might cohere more happily, but the earnestness and rigor at the foundation match only uneasily the castle of sweets built up above. Work that’s gifted but still in big pieces of cloth, a kind of coat of several colors.

Pub Date: June 3, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-42206-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1998

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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