For a character-driven work, this is a disappointing bunch. Henry is a bore, Ned a stereotype of the artist as egomaniac,...

ORCHARD

The art world is the only winner in this bleak look at an unhappy quartet: a painter, his model, and their spouses.

Opening shot: a man with a pistol sliding pell-mell down a snow-covered orchard to reach an artist’s studio. But Watson (Laura, 2000, etc.) plays with chronology in dizzying fashion, and that opening is a prelude to the climax. So let’s back up. In 1946, Henry House marries Sonja Skordahl in rural Wisconsin. Though Sonja has yet to master the nuances of her second language (her dirt-poor Norwegian parents shipped her to the US when she was 12), she understands from the get-go that Henry can be as “unyielding as stone.” He is a conventional man, an apple-grower like his father, and an outdoorsman. Character is destiny. If only Henry had sold his horse, Buck, at Sonja’s urging, it would not have caused their little boy’s death. In his grief, though, Henry turns to Buck, not Sonja. There’s a dumb accident, again involving Buck, and Henry can’t work. How to pay the bills? Secretly, Sonja poses nude for the internationally renowned Ned Weaver, whose pattern is to bed and discard his models in short order. But Sonja is different. Behind her sorrowful beauty is a secret he can’t unlock. She represents the supreme challenge of his career, and he exercises patience, both as artist and philanderer. Meanwhile, tongues wag. Henry’s equally conventional sister Phyllis scolds Sonja, but then, in a moving about-face and moment of transcendent sisterhood, accepts her credo. Sonja is not the property of either man: “I belong to myself.” Thinking differently, Henry ruins all their lives, though Ned’s wife Harriet, his faithful disciple, sells his paintings of Sonja for a cool four million.

For a character-driven work, this is a disappointing bunch. Henry is a bore, Ned a stereotype of the artist as egomaniac, and Harriet short-changed. Only Sonja stirs the soul. Watson’s sixth is graced by his customary fine detail work, but it’s not enough.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-50723-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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