Barbara Ehrenreich | Critical Review by Vicky Hutchings

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Barbara Ehrenreich.
This section contains 631 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Vicky Hutchings

SOURCE: "Lamb Stakes," in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 7, No. 303, May 20, 1994, pp. 37-8.

In the following review, Hutchings provides a summary of the plot elements in Kipper's Game.

Like the famous trick with mirrors, this book endlessly repeats itself in different sizes. The leitmotif is the search for understanding. It starts with an addictive computer game condensed on to three disks: you have to get the scrolls to the wise woman, past the black knights, past all the obstacles in the way. The game is also a pedagogical tool, a summary of all that we are capable of and all we have learned. Hey, these disks can lead to "Enlightenment, the mystic goal of mankind".

The novel follows the same path: Steve, or Kipper as he calls himself, happy hacker and the game's creator, tries to keep the disks out of the clutches of his former employers, the drug-dealing, New Ageish Harvest Enterprises, scientist-descendants of the Nazi Erntegruppe who once experimented on Jews. His dream is to give them to Sister Bertha, the pirate-radio preacher, who says that "everything we have is worth giving away". Could Sister Bertha, perhaps, be the Visitor Harvest is expecting: one of the extra-terrestrial Others who "programmed us, through the wiring of our brains", come back for the pay-off?

When you play the game, "everything is a clue". Just like the book. And so we come full circle. This is Foucault's Pendulum territory without the laundry list, but now it's the reader who is searching for enlightenment.

Here are a few pointers: Claire predicts that "The Lamb shall rise up and slay the lion"; Harvest designs a deadly virus in its labs, whose symptoms unaccountably are the stigmata; the fish is a Christian symbol; Stephen was the first Christian martyr. After Kipper kills his father Leo, in cahoots with Harvest, he later dies, blood oozing from his palms.

Now let's turn to some of the characters associated with Harvest: Kentwell Brabant, has a "pink glow" in his eyes; Doctor Leitbetter, in its pay, smells of something "rare and stratospheric like ozone"; the Human Ecology Complex he heads is nicknamed Hell. Have you had enough clues yet?

"There are two times only that He comes for us," says Sister Bertha. "The first time was the sowing, the planting of His flesh. The next time is the reaping, and the next time is the last." And the next time, it seems, She is a woman.

By the end, Kipper's mother Della is in therapy, coming to terms with the death of her husband and son, and her encounter "with the Visitor … with God, if we're to call it God." The psychiatrist is rather underwhelmed by Della's story: "When you mix together Nazis and extra-terrestrials and mind-altering computer technologies, you are traveling down one of the main thoroughfares of the contemporary mind. A well-worn path, not to say trite. Oh yes, the second coming too: that's fine, that's usually in there. Some people think reality is boring and oppressive. They should have to sit in [my] chair and hear the same fantasy ingredients … again and again." Most people will know Barbara Ehrenreich from her column in the Guardian. This is her first novel. A lot of readers may not like these fantasy ingredients. But Kipper's Game is also sharp and funny, in a dry sort of way.

Sometimes the observations make your hair stand on end. The scene when Della accidentally picks up the phone and overhears two voices "which seemed to know each other far better than she knew anyone, including her husband, who was one of the voices" is one of the finest depictions of the end of a marriage I have ever read. The bastard deserved all he got. This is Virago at its best.

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This section contains 631 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Vicky Hutchings