Doerr (Four Seasons in Rome, 2007, etc.) moves the reader gracefully from place to place (the stories span four continents),...

MEMORY WALL

STORIES

A collection of six stories—at least one long enough to be considered a novella—that illustrate Doerr’s sparse style, command of language and mastery of characterization.

The title story, the most elaborate in the collection, features the “harvesting” of the memories of 74-year-old Alma Konachek, who lives in a suburb of Cape Town. Three years earlier her husband, Harold, died immediately after discovering a rare fossil in the Great Karoo, a desert region in South Africa. Because the find is valuable as well as rare, a “memory tapper” breaks into Alma’s home, seeking the cartridges containing memories that have been harvested from wealthy people. While Luvo, the tapper, reviews the cartridges, the reader becomes aware of Alma’s past home and family life as well as the tensions in her marriage. Eventually, Luvo and his mentor Roger find the right cartridge and are able to retrieve the fossil, something of a miracle since the late Harold Konachek is convinced that the only permanent thing is change. The next story, “Procreate, Generate,” follows the heartbreaking story of Herb and Imogene, who after ten years of marriage decide they want children and are unable to conceive. The story almost reads like a documentary of their struggles with in vitro fertilization and the strain it places on their marriage. They finally conclude that “Nothingness is the rule. Life is the exception.” In “The Demilitarized Zone,” Doerr tells the story of an American soldier in Korea who buries a crane that hit a communications wire and almost gets court-martialed for his humanitarian act. In epistolary form, the story makes these implausible events both believable and moving.

Doerr (Four Seasons in Rome, 2007, etc.) moves the reader gracefully from place to place (the stories span four continents), from incident to incident, and from memorable character to memorable character by focusing on small acts that have larger resonances.

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4391-8280-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2010

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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