THE CRYSTAL FRONTIER

A NOVEL IN NINE STORIES

A sardonic tale about relations between the US and Mexico, by the latter country's acclaimed author of such cosmopolitan fictions as Terra Nostra (1976) and The Campaign (1991), among others. Each story portrays a conflict involving a family member, intimate, or business associate of "the powerful political Leonardo Barroso," a deal- and king-maker with a foot in both countries and a shadowy demeanor and personal history. For example, "A Capital Girl" traces the emotional vacillations endured by Michelina, an impressionable young woman who idolizes her godfather, Leonardo, as a result accepting marriage to his deeply unstable son Mariano. These and other characters reappear in several stories, a few of which are rather too nakedly discursive (e.g., the wheelchair-bound narrator's monologue in "The Line of Oblivion," and a predictably manic-depressive relationship between a wealthy white matron and her abused Mexican housemaid in "Girlfriends"). Indeed, most of the stories are too frequently interrupted by ironic commentaries on both American arrogance and myopia and Mexican illiteracy and inertia. However, "Spoils" presents a delicious characterization of its protagonist Dionisio, a cooking expert and gourmet explorer of several species of appetites. And in "Malintzin Las Maquilas"—a lively, sexy story whose sociopolitical content emerges naturally from its character relationships—Fuentes vividly depicts the volatile bonding among three women factory workers. The long (and uneven) climactic story, "Rio Grande, Rio Bravo," explores in too pat a fashion the human and diplomatic ramifications of "crossing the border," and brings the volume to a stagy (if perfectly logical) violent end. A vast improvement over Fuentes's recent self-indulgent metafiction Diana (1995), and a pretty creditable dramatization of the mocking rhyme with which the book leaves us: "poor Mexico,/poor United States,/so far from God,/so near to one another.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-374-13277-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1997

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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