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A GHOST'S MEMOIR

The wry humor and raw emotional truth of JJ’s journey will have readers rooting for him from death to eternity.

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When 29-year-old janitor JJ Lynch is tragically killed by a drunk driver, he uses tools found in a university lab to communicate with those he’s left behind.

McCarter has turned the grief memoir on its head by exploring loss from the first-person point of view of his newly departed protagonist, struggling to shuffle off this mortal coil. In life, JJ befriended Tamara, a scientist experimenting with electromagnetism in an effort to reach her murdered fiancé; after his own untimely passing, JJ uses Tamara’s experiment to send her a series of “Transmissions” from the other side. This storytelling device is original, and JJ’s transmissions are well written and often irreverent. In between, though, McCarter includes sketchily written “Interview Transcripts,” in which JJ’s loved ones react to his messages from beyond. Here, the author misses the opportunity to flesh out the experience of those left behind, more deeply linking the novel’s frame—the laboratory experiment—with JJ’s “memoir.” There are other missed opportunities, as well. Tamara’s fiancé died trying to tell her something, but this intriguing thread is left unresolved, as is another memorable episode in which new spirit JJ is threatened by a gang of ghostly bullies. McCarter has grounded his paranormal narrative in the “reality” of numerous accounts of near-death experiences, such as the “silver cord” connecting the soul to the “meat,” or body, but there is much for the rookie ghost to learn on the fly. While coming to terms with his accident, JJ is consumed by flames of rage as he seeks retribution for his death, sinks into a vivid, horrifying slough of despond known as the bardo (a Buddhist concept) and fights desperately to intervene as his best friend is about to be murdered. McCarter’s spirit world can also be playful and fun, particularly his account of the “Midnight Circle,” at which a motley assortment of ghosts gather to perform Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett. It is to the author’s credit that, even though his main character is “extra corporeal,” JJ’s heartrending passage, kicking and screaming, through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief for his lost life, is relatable for any reader who has lost a loved one too soon.

The wry humor and raw emotional truth of JJ’s journey will have readers rooting for him from death to eternity.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0964209626

Page Count: 283

Publisher: Little Hummingbird

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2012

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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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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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