Katharine Weber author of
The Music Lesson and The Little Women Kate Walbert's dazzling novel has the elegiac grace and wisdom-and also the wistfulness-of a John Cheever story. The collective narrative voice gives the novel a breathtaking authority. The tragedy of these empty, prosperous lives could make this a cruel farce were it not so delicately and deliciously rendered into something far finer. What a marvelous book.
Tom Perrotta author of
Election and Little Children Our Kind is a brave and beautiful book about love, friendship, and regret. In this remarkable novel, Kate Walbert, one of our finest writers, has given us a slyly comic, quietly shocking, deeply moving group portrait of a vanishing breed of American women.
The New York Times Book Review [E]xquisite. [T]his gang is the most inviting. They are good company: funny, tough, loyal, tolerant, jaunty even in their cups. Convinced that life has passed them by, they fail to notice the gift it slipped them on the sly, an ability to be part of their "kind" even as each remains utterly herself.
The New York Times Book Review [W]ry and compressed, full of quick, telling details....I can't think of another contemporary novel except James Salter's Light Years that so zealously grapples with the passage of time as a subject....[S]tartling and cumulative [in its] heft. Chicago Tribune A collective portrait emerges from selective moments some sharp and painful, others tender and questing. These '50s women defy stereotype even as they evoke all the details. Salon Her "novel in stories" twines together select tales from the lives of a group of older women in gorgeous but taut lyrical prose. While Woolfian in spirit, the book's sharp, canny social observations are rather more Austenian. Newsday There's no denying Walbert's talent or her ambition. Washington Post Our Kind is the book you read along with Updike and Cheever...touching and often surreal. Walbert writes...with insight and compassion. The Boston Globe Beautiful, heartbreaking...[The characters] are free and unfettered.
Village Voice [T]he 1950s women of Walbert's "novel in stories," Our Kind, are a dying breed; but she insists, rightly, on the viability of their ambition-nipped lives.
[W]ry and compressed, full of quick, telling details....I can't think of another contemporary novel except James Salter's
Light Years that so zealously grapples with the passage of time as a subject....[S]tartling and cumulative [in its] heft. Jennifer Egan
New York Times Book Review
A collective portrait emerges from selective momentssome sharp and painful, others tender and questing. These '50s women defy stereotype even as they evoke all the details.
One of the many pleasures to be found in
Our Kind, a ''novel in stories,'' is the fact that Walbert's chosen genre is acutely suited to her artistic goals. Our Kind is narrated collectively (a technique used by Jeffrey Eugenides in The Virgin Suicides) by a group of older women who have been friends since they were young. While glints of individual experience flash at the reader, mainly in the form of reminiscences, most of the book's events are experienced collectively, and much of the action happens offstage. Had Walbert tried to force her material into a more conventional format, the result would very likely have been diffuse and flat. In its present form, though, Our Kind works prismatically, and its fractured telling accumulates a sneaky, wrenching power.
Walbert, author of
The Gardens of Kyoto, has written a touching and often surreal group of linked stories about being born a little too late for one era and a little too early for the next.
Mannered yet curiously moving, this novel in stories by Walbert (The Gardens of Kyoto) tells the collective tale of a group of wealthy suburban women who came of age in the 1950s and are now facing life long after husbands and children have flown the coop ("We were married in 1953. Divorced in 1976. Our grown daughters pity us; our grown sons forget us"). Free of old inhibitions and with nothing left to lose ("they think us heartless and we are, somewhat"), they embark on odd crusades and projects when they aren't shopping or gossiping around the pool. In the brilliant "Intervention," they decide to save their favorite realtor, Him, who represents "our faithless husband, our poor father. He is our bad son, our schemer, our rogue.... Still, we love Him," then realize they need help themselves. Love recalled (and often ridiculed) is a recurring subject. In "Esther's Walter," Esther, the group's "artistic one," invites the group to a sinister party on the anniversary of her husband's death; in "Bambi Breaks for Freedom," the wheelchair-bound Bambi seeks her friends' support as she sets herself free from an old heartbreak. Walbert offers other sharp snapshots of the remaining members of the group, among them earnest, forgetful Judy; Canoe, the bouncy, ever-recovering alcoholic; Barbara, whose depressed daughter kills herself; "frigid" Gay who married a gay man; Suzie, the country club matron who fails to get her female lover admitted to the club; and lonely Louise. In an era when women went to college to study "the three Gs: Grooming, Grammar, and Grace," Walbert's characters are caught like insects in amber as they make late-in-life discoveries no school could ever teach. Brittle, funny and poignant, this is a prickly treat. (Apr.) Forecast: Ladies who lunch (and who don't mind self-scrutiny) will enjoy this novel; so (perhaps less obviously) will fans of Jeffrey Eugenides's Virgin Suicides, which is also narrated in a first-person plural voice and paints a kindred picture of suburbia. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
After The Gardens of Kyoto: women who came of age in the Fifties face up to life's disappointments. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Called "a novel in stories," Walbert's new entry (after The Gardens of Kyoto, 2001, etc.) starts slowly, then reaches high indeed. Walbert's first-person plural ("we") draws attention to itself in a tic-like way and automatically narrows and miniaturizes tone and theme, even character, since no chorus can have the idiosyncratic power of an individual. This "we" is a group of women who married and had babies back in the 1950s; now, they're divorced or widowed, their daughters grown and gone-or dead. "The Intervention" opens with the group attempting to expose an unscrupulous realtor: the "we" is in full swing, the story at once conventional and affected. "Esther's Walter" fares little better: a widow gives a party, then ceremoniously drinks poison in front of all her friends. "Bambi Breaks for Freedom"-an ex-pianist, in a wheelchair, telephones the man who once dumped her long ago-suffers from the same improbability and coy tone. But then things really start happening: The "we" falls aside as members of the group "tell" their stories in what are suddenly natural voices, with resulting believability and expressiveness. It's revealed, in "Screw Martha," that one daughter, Megan, actually killed herself, and from then on every scrap the reader can gather about her or her mother is riveting. In "Sick Chicks," a nursing home death (the patients discuss Mrs. Dalloway) is perfect, deft, and unobtrusively poignant, as is "Warriors" (a young pregnant woman's hidden tale is drawn out by a portrait photographer). Whole lives-a generation, an era-are handled with grace, deftness, and skill in these pieces, including the wondrous "Come As You Were," where the women wear their old wedding dresses to aparty, a sadly hilarious conceit that provides a veritable feast (as does "The Beginning of the End") of tales that unflinchingly look half a century into the past and tell us exactly what was back there, and what is-or isn't-still here, today. Then-and-now prose pieces that, at their best, are among the finest there can be.