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A Taxonomy of Barnacles: A Novel Hardcover – December 27, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312334834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312334833
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,933,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Niederhoffer's arch, alliterative debut, Bell, Bridget, Beth, Belinda, Beryl and Benita Barnacle, ranging in age from 10 to 29, plunge headlong into the competition their father, Barry Barnacle (né Baranski), dictates at the family's annual Passover seder on the Upper East Side. "Whoever can figure out a way to immortalize the Barnacle name will be named the sole beneficiary of my estate," declares the patriarch, who made his fortune as New York's "Pantyhose Prince," formed a worldview according to social Darwinism, but produced no male heirs. Twenty-nine-year-old Bell may lock down the contest by announcing her pregnancy. But 10-year-old Benita, daddy's little girl, sets out to immortalize her family name through infamy, not progeny. Rebellious 16-year-old Belinda, who shares "her sisters' wildness but none of their savvy," pursues a questionable liaison with a pierced, acne-prone suitor, while Beryl, an artistic 13-year-old, apparently doesn't deign to compete. The real game, though, is between Bell and 26-year-old Bridget (the prettiest and most extroverted sister) who angle for the affections of their handsome neighbors, identical twins Billy and Blaine Finch. This zany 1930s-style romantic comedy, titled after Darwin's monograph on the arthropods he studied before finches, makes for a lighthearted literary lark.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Charles Darwin studied barnacles before he used the Galapagos finch to illustrate his theory of evolution, a fact first-time novelist Niederhoffer parlays into a delightfully clever and romantic screwball comedy. Her Barnacles are an eccentric and well-off Manhattan family ensconced in an enormous apartment facing Central Park and bursting with natural--history collections. It's a hectic household, what with Barry, the droll and manipulative patriarch; his loopy ex-wife, Bella, who lives upstairs with Latrell, her adopted African American son; Bunny, Barry's current wife; and six headstrong daughters, all with names beginning with B. The Finches live next door, and romantic confusion ensues between the at-loose-ends twentysomething identical Finch twins, Billy and Blaine, and the two oldest Barnacle sisters, Bridget and Bell, who are similarly adrift, antics that elicit much ire from the quirky younger Barnacles. Then, as if life in his daffy kingdom wasn't contentious enough, Barry initiates a contest that throws his competitive if dysfunctional daughters into a frenzy. A filmmaker before she became a novelist, Niederhoffer pays sparkling homage to fairy tales, King Lear, Austen, and Nora Ephron in this charming and sly spoofing of the concept of the survival of the fittest, and the nature-versus-nurture debate. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

I had to force myself to finish this book.
klj
The writing was mostly bad, the little literary references and tricks were too obvious, the characters were unlikeable, and it all seemed very self-indulgent.
KJo
I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone with a family.
Gillian Hammers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Someone Like You on January 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I'm not a great writer, but in college I took some creative writing classes. In the classes, everybody had to read everybody else's stuff each week. Most of it was drivel, mine included. Aside from sharing a common thread of sheer awfulness, the writing also shared an affected fussiness. we all wrote like we thought we should write, or how our favourite author wrote. in the process, nothing we produced made sense, sounded real, or was very interesting at all.

you probably see where i'm going with this. i gave Taxonomy 50 pages. Facing another 300+, I kept asking myself, can it really be this bad? can the tone be this self-consciously pretentious, the sentences this schizophrenic, the diction this...plain wrong? Did anyone edit this book? did the author herself read her own writing? did she, in fact, pass 3rd grade?

doubting myself a little, and looking for a little confirmation, i sought any review i could find. On the New York Observer's website, author Anna Shapiro hits the mark dead on. I won't post her comments here, but please read her review before you consider buying this book.

[...]

I hate posting negative reviews, but I can honestly say Taxonomy goes down as the single worst effort by a first-time novelist that i've ever read.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Richard L. Goldfarb on March 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
"A Taxonomy of Barnacles" is supposedly a novel about nature versus nurture, taking its name from an early work of Darwin, and posing, in the background, the question of why Darwin, having developed his theory of natural selection in a study of barnacles, waited many years to publish it, and then focused instead on finches.

Thus, we have the contrast between the Barnacle family, a wealthy Jewish family whose patriarch made his money in pantyhose, and the Finch family, their WASPish neighbors who include a pair of identical twins. The book's introduction is well-written and intriguing, but from the start of the first actual chapter the book seems to have lost its way. Everyone in the Barnacle family has a first name starting with B, except for adopted Latrell, and they are hard to keep track of. Bell and Bridget and youngest Benita are pretty distinct, while the other three often go unmentioned for many pages. Bits and pieces are worthwhile, but the time scale is hard to follow, with some things seeming to go on forever while the book turns out to take place within a single week.

The supposed engine of the plot is a King Lear like promise by father Barry Barnacle to leave his fortune to the daughter who immortalizes the family name. Motifs of the importance of the right proposal (which I assume is the point other reviewers refer to as a shout out to Jane Austen), the similarities and differences between twins and siblings, infidelity, deception and identity switching fill the book.

Unfortunately, what does not fill the book is any sense of consistency.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By klj on August 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I had to force myself to finish this book. Now that I am finished, I couldn't even begin to tell you what it's about other than an annoying family. It jumps all over the place and it's difficult to keep all of the sisters in order. Like others, I don't know how this book made it to print. I also found the constant use of the word "ennui" irritating. If you insist on reading this, don't buy it, get it from the library. It's not worth the money.
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Format: Paperback
Perhaps the author is one of those New Yorkers who is so priveleged that she has only traveled around the city via taxi cab... at least she could have done a little research and looked at a subway map. She ought to know, if she is truly a New Yorker (and being a New Yorker I'm not convinced)- the D train does NOT stop at 59th and Lex, and the downtown 9 train goes down the west side and does NOT stop at Astor Place, which is an east side 6 train stop. For shame. Inexcusable errors about the city!

Also, as someone else here pointed out; "....if she had an editor wouldn't she have been told that if the Barnacles and the Finches share the top floor of their apartment building that Bella Barnacle cannot possibly live above them?" The book is full of sloppy details like these. And I have never seen such an extreme example of a book that tells, and never shows.

I am reading this book on vacation and I am planning to leave it behind. It doesn't merit the suitcase space to lug it home. Go see "The Royal Tennenbaums", the movie this book was clearly ripped from, which a far, far superior narrative.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By roger sutherland on March 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I checked this book out of the library (fortunately for me it was a waste of time but not money) the day after reading a review that billed it as "a contemporary Jane Austen comedy of errors." After one hundred pages I am truly baffled. Apparently all a girl needs to do to be compared to Jane Austen these days is take on what is supposed to be a dry and witty tone, misuse her Harvard vocabulary and throw a ridiculous number of flat and indistinguishable characters at her plot. Ms. Niederhoffer thanks her editor on the acknowledgements page, but there are far too many stupid mistakes in her prose to convince me that this person actually exists. If she had an editor wouldn't she have been told that if the Barnacles and the Finches share the top floor of their apartment building that Bella Barnacle cannot possibly live above them? Or that if Bell and Bridget's going off to college coincided with the beginning of Belinda's wild streak that Belinda was an alcoholic eight year old? Or for God's sake, that it's 'couldn't care less,' not 'could care less'? This book is something that should have been shot down in its earliest stages. Take that, Claire Danes!
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