One-Minute Book Reviews

July 30, 2007

Newt Gingrich Chuckle Meter

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:06 am
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A novel about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor might sound grim. But Newt Gingrich provides lots of chuckles in Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th (St. Martin’s, $25.95), written with co-author William R. Forstchen and contributing editor Albert S. Hanser.

Here are some of the places in the book where the former Speaker of the House tells us that a character “chuckled”:

“the cabbie chuckled softly” (page 8).
“[Japanese Commander Mitsuo] Fuchida chuckled’ (page 34).
Fuchida “chuckled” again (page 34).
“[U.S. Commander James] Watson chuckled’ (page 38).
“Fuchida chuckled” (page 38).
“[Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander] Cecil [Stanford] chuckled” (page 39).
“Winston [Churchill] chuckled softly” (page 57).
“Cecil chuckled” (page 58).”
“Winston chuckled” (page 58).
“Winston chuckled” (page 67).
“Fuchida chuckled” (page 124).
“Fuchida chuckled” (page 126).
“Fuchida chuckled” (page 127).
“The American chuckled” (page 152).
“[U.S. Colonel Carl] Spaatz chuckled” (page 156).
“[Japanese Naval Attaché Minoru] Genda “chuckled” (page 157).
“Watson chuckled softly” (page 170).
“[Japanese Admiral Isoroku] Yamamoto chuckled” (page 178)
“[Yamamoto] chuckled derisively” (page 179).
“Genda chuckled” (page 250).
“Winston chuckled” (page 263).
“Winston chuckled” again (page 263).
“Winston chuckled” (page 269).
Watson and Stanford “both chuckled at the same time” (page 277).
“James [Watson] chuckled” (page 283).

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 13, 2007

Susan Coll’s ‘Acceptance,’ a Send-Up of the College Admissions Race

A Harvard interviewer offers an underage applicant a drink in a novel set in a suburb of Washington, D.C., that teems with overachieving students and micromanaging parents

Acceptance. By Susan Coll. Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Sarah Crichton, 286 pp., $23.

By Janice Harayda

Getting into college is a game of Twister in this tart send-up of an ever-more-contorted application process. Acceptance has more bite and sparkle than the recent Admissions, which it resembles not just in its title but in its themes and structure. But overall it’s as uneven as the transcripts of the students who compete on its pages for spots at Ivy League and other universities.

Coll shows deftly the degradations that applying to favored colleges inflicts on students and parents in a gold-plated suburb of Washington, D.C., where a Harvard alumni interviewer offers an underage applicant a drink and keeps forgetting his name. And she offers trenchant social commentary as she follows several students and their families through the year before graduation. “Didn’t grades fall into the zone of private information, along with age and weight and financial net worth?” a mother wonders as she hears another boasting about a child’s straight A’s.

But Coll undercuts her story with clichés and digressive subplots, and she has such a slack grip on point of view that you never feel as much as you could for her characters. So her book ultimately works better as a critique of the admissions racket than as a novel. Acceptance underscores the folly of turning any school into a grail when, as Coll notes, “Study after study showed that there was no correlation between where a person went to college and his or her future happiness, or even earning power.”

Best line: Many good lines involve a fictitious college in upstate New York that surged in popularity after a statistical error boosted its ranking in U.S. News & World Report. An admissions officer laments that the school annually gets essays from students on “how the historical figure they most closely identified with was Harry Potter.” And until the error in U.S. News, “pretty much anyone who could manage to get the right postage on the envelope had a reasonably good chance of getting in.”

Worst line: Coll’s pervasive trouble with point of view is hard to show in a few lines. An oversimplified example involves the thoughts of a student named Taylor. Three times in one paragraph on page 228, Coll writes, “Taylor wondered” (or “she wondered”). Coll wouldn’t need to keep using that phrase if she had a lock on Taylor’s point of view because we would know who “wondered.” (This is not mainly an issue of redundancy – although it’s that, too – but of control of perspective.) All those “she wondereds” are tin cans tied to the bumper of the story, and similar phrases clatter throughout book. Count the clichés in this line for example of another sort of lapse: “She deduced that despite his best efforts to get a leg up on his peers, at the end of the day a Harvard acceptance was just going to boil down to the luck of the draw.”

Reading group guide: A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Acceptance was posted on May 13, 2007, and is archived with the May posts.

Editor: Sarah Crichton

Published: March 2007

Furthermore: Coll also wrote Rockville Pike and A Love Story.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 27, 2006

The New Year’s Resolutions of Kate Reddy, Working Mother

Allison Pearson satirizes sexual double standards at work and at home

I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother. By Allison Pearson. Anchor, 338 pp., $13.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Working mothers! Can you identify with any of the following New Year’s resolutions?

“Adjust work-life balance for happier, healthier existence … Spend more time with your children … Don’t take [husband] for granted … Attempt to be size 10 … Call friends, hope they remember you.”

These are the resolutions of Kate Reddy, the high-octane fund manager and heroine of Allison Pearson’s merciless send-up of sexual double standards, I Don’t Know How She Does It. Kate believes she was “educated for something better than the gentle warming of Barbie pasta.” But her firm’s diversity initiatives are sham, her young children “have not grasped the principle of Quality Time,” and when her nanny calls in sick, the only available temp is a “close relative of Slobodan Milosevic.” Kate’s husband means well, but his good intentions are destined to count for only so much “until they programmed a man to notice you were out of toilet paper.”

One of the great virtues of this novel is that Pearson understands – and lampoons – the cultural forces that hold women back, such as diversity programs designed to more protect firms from lawsuits than to end discrimination. She never suggests that Kate would have fewer problems if she had a different husband or children or had spent years in therapy. But she hedges her bets with an over-the-top subplot about Kate’s father that that shows that not only does her heroine work with cretins – her father was pretty awful, too. Pearson tries to connect the two ideas by suggesting that women who succeed in finance tend to be “Daddy’s girls.” This may be true, but she tells us this instead of showing it convincingly, and at times causes the novel to cross the line from satire into farce. And when the inevitable marital crisis erupts, Kate’s husband takes action too cruel for a man who cast as saintly until them.

Even so, nearly every page of the novel has a sparkling or trenchant observation that helps to make it the best send-up of sexism at work of the new millennium. Every reader may have his or her own favorite line. Here’s one that fits a holiday week: “Like any other family, the Shattocks have their Christmas traditions. One tradition is that I buy all the presents for my side of the family and I buy all the presidents for our children and our two godchildren and I buy Richard’s presents and presents for Richard’s parents and his brother Peter and Peter’s wife Cheryl and their three kinds and Richard’s Uncle Alf … If Richard remembers, and depending on late opening hours, he buys a present for me.”

Best line: Here’s one that involves Kate Reddy’s 18-month-old son: “Ben has discovered his penis. Lying on the changing table, he wears the rapt, triumphant expression of a being who has just found the on-off switch for the solar system.”

Worst line: “My dad has always confused sentimentality with intimacy.” This is telling, not showing. And that “intimacy” is one of Pearson’s rare descents into psychobabble.

Recommended if … you have incipient carpal tunnel syndrome from all the packages you wrapped while your husband was watching The Game.

Editors: Jordan Pavlin at Knopf, Alison Samuel at Chatto, and Caroline Michel at Vintage.

Published: October 2002 (Knopf hardcover edition). September 2003 (first Anchor Books edition).

© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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