Devilishly sharp social commentary.


An eccentric outsider is baffled by contemporary Manhattan in this engrossing second novel by Pelzman (Troika, 2014).

Robert Walser is a struggling writer whose genteel ways suit a bygone age. He lives on the Upper West Side, supported by a dwindling inheritance, clinging to the hope that his work will be published. Besides his agent, Belinda St. Clair, “a sour but persistent old woman,” Walser has only one other important contact—Rose—a woman with whom he has exchanged letters but never met. The novel’s opening finds the protagonist in high spirits, having received two important messages—the first from Belinda informing him that his short story is being considered by a literary journal, the second from Rose, announcing her imminent arrival in New York. The storyline follows Walser on his walk from his 72nd Street apartment to the Port Authority, where Rose will alight a bus from Philadelphia. Sadly, Rose fails to show, and Walser’s heart sinks as he realizes that he must continue to navigate the unforgiving city alone. Meanwhile, he discovers that a sculpture is being erected near his apartment that embodies all he despises about contemporary city life. Pelzman’s second novel brims with intrigue. Does the enigmatic Rose exist? What is the significance of the sculpture titled #dunamisto? Pelzman’s reveal is tantalizing and richly detailed. Many of the scenes that define Walser’s character will live on in the memory. One such is when he rides the subway and confronts a young man for failing to give up his seat to the elderly: “I await a humane response, but instead he shrugs his shoulders, returns the headphones to his ears and taps away at the screen of his phone as if he exists on a planet of one.” Walser’s old-fashioned set of values—which may appear priggish but are founded on human decency—cause him to be looked upon as potentially insane. This is acutely observant, timely writing that confronts the ever heightening sense of disconnection and self-absorption extant in city life. A minor criticism: The narrative could be distilled from novel length into an even more intense short story. Walser’s jury duty, for instance; although amusing, it feels somewhat extraneous. Still, this is another entrancing, deeply memorable offering from Pelzman.

Devilishly sharp social commentary.

Pub Date: July 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73325-853-1

Page Count: 201

Publisher: Jackson Heights Press

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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