Fiction Reviews, December 2011

Barr, Nevada. The Rope. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9780312614577. $25.99. F
The adventures of park ranger Anna Pigeon have filled the pages of 16 books, and now her legion of loyal fans can find out how her story began. After her husband’s death in 1995, Anna leaves New York City to take a seasonal position at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. On a hike to explore the dry canyon lands around Lake Powell, Anna literally falls into a mystery. Fighting thirst and drug-induced delirium, she extricates herself from the dry well and begins to unravel the who and why of her tortuous ordeal. Barr’s luxuriant depictions of desert landscapes with its colors and hues and details about Lake Powell’s tourist population are interwoven into the narrative as an indispensable element of her popular series. Anna emerges from this canyon escapade as a strong, determined woman who plans to return to park service employment as a law enforcement ranger, stating that more women should carry guns. VERDICT Another awesome winner for Barr. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/11.]‚ Patricia Ann Owens, Illinois Eastern Community Coll., Mount Carmel

Byatt, A.S. Ragnarok: The End of the Gods. Grove. Feb. 2012. c.192p. ISBN 9780802129925. $24. F
Byatt’s retelling of Norse mythology has the fearsome immediacy of modern apocalyptic fiction. The novel’s only modern character, a young British girl immersed in reading Asgard and the Gods during World War II‚ surely Byatt herself‚ is barely fleshed out; Byatt calls her the thin girl in an ironic wink. But through her we feel that impending wartime doom, even as we are treated to the poetical lushness of both the English landscape and the mythical Norse world, the latter more wild than any medieval bestiary. And we learn the power of plot and story, which are stronger than the gods, who knew the end was coming but could do nothing to stop it. The Götterdämmerung can be interpreted on many levels: Loki’s daughter Jormungandr, a serpent who greedily eats almost any sea life she encounters until she grows so large that she encircles the world and bites herself painfully on the tail, is a prescient metaphor for our ecological shortsightedness. Byatt’s vision is grim and unredemptive; she rejects any Christian interpretation as a corruption of the original myth. VERDICT Required reading for those interested in Byatt, Norse mythology, or stirring story craft.‚ Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA

Auslander, Shalom. Hope: A Tragedy. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9781594488382. $26.95. F
Solomon Kugel is obsessed with death and what his last words will be. Having moved to the country for some peace and quiet, he discovers that he has a supposedly long-dead Holocaust victim living in his farmhouse attic. What’s worse, he won’t ask her to leave. He fears that as a Jew he will be ostracized for making a famous concentration camp victim homeless‚ never mind that he’s discovered that the bad smell in the house is from her using the heating vents as her toilet. In this hilarious farce, we inhabit the musings of Kugel as he deals with what initially seems like a minor inconvenience in his home life. Soon, however, events spin out of control as he is injured, loses his job, and alienates his wife. VERDICT With underlying ghoulish humor‚ it’s risky to engage lightheartedly with the Holocaust‚ Auslander provides a brisk narrative marked by a continuing parade of sharp, ironic asides as Kugel’s life falls apart piece by piece. A darkly ambitious undertaking in absurdity that essentially mimics the problems of real life; recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, 9/30/11.]‚ Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos P.L., CA



  1. Patty O'Connor says:

    How do I get all of the Fiction reviews that appeared in the December 2011 issue of the magazine? This web page has only three reviews on it – where are the rest?