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THE LITTLE FRIEND

Still, the characters are gritty and appealing, and the story holds you throughout. Tartt appears to have struck gold once...

The successor to Tartt’s wildly successful debut (The Secret History, 1992) is another ambitious dark-hued melodrama—destined for big sales, though it’s an intermittently creaky performance.

The burden of sorrow that afflicts the family of a murdered child, an introspective preadolescent turned avenger and detective, and a clan of redneck malcontents who make Faulkner’s Snopeses look like the Sitwells are among the lurid materials tossed amiably together in this very long, very overheated, yet absorbing novel. It begins magnificently, with a tense prologue that describes the discovery of nine-year-old Robin Dufresnes’s hanged body on a hot Mother’s Day afternoon in a small Mississippi town. The story then leaps ahead 12 years, to show us Robin’s mother Charlotte still paralyzed by grief, his sister Allison (unable to remember what she alone presumably witnessed) sleeping 16 hours a day, and her younger sister Harriet—bookish and virtually friendless—persuaded that she knows who killed her brother (the murder was never solved), and how to punish him. Tartt whips up a townful of vivid eccentrics (prominent among them are the Dufresnes girls’ four unmarried great-aunts, from whom Harriet solicits details about their family’s hushed-up history), creating a rich backdrop against which Harriet and her partner in intrigue, an ingenuous boy named Hely Hull (who adores her), evade embarrassments like church camp and parental discipline, eavesdrop on a passel of sinister snake-handlers (thereby discovering the perfect instrument of revenge), and pit themselves against the local white-trash Ratliff brothers, led by murderous psychopath Farish, who conceals the amphetamines he produces in a remote water tower. Despite an overload of staggered false climaxes, it’s all quite irrationally entertaining. Direct allusions and glancing references alike make clear that The Little Friend is Tartt’s homage to the romantic adventure novels of Twain and Stevenson—and, for much of its length, a rather bald-faced imitation of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Still, the characters are gritty and appealing, and the story holds you throughout. Tartt appears to have struck gold once again.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-679-43938-2

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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