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Our Kind: A Novel in Stories


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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.

It's a stretch to call this a novel: there is no plot or narrative structure to connect the individual stories, just a cast of recurring characters. Nevertheless, Walbert (The Gardens of Kyoto) succeeds at portraying women who came of age in an era and social class that required women to get married. Affluent and sheltered, they got hitched in the 1950s, divorced in the 1970s, and continue to struggle with the limitations of their chosen lives. For the most part, the stories are narrated in the second-person plural, so the women speak as "we." At first, this seems gimmicky, but ultimately it works because we learn these are women uncomfortable with and embarrassed by deep personal connections and emotional vulnerability. However, as we see them at various points in their lives, we recognize how important they are to each other, even if they don't realize it themselves. This is no weepy, girl-bonding soap but in many places hard, bitter, and filled with regret. Recommended for most collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/03.]-Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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.
Laura Miller 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.
Jennifer Egan 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.

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