A profound tale, with its profundity couched in irreligious humor.

CLERICAL ERRORS

The award-winning author of The Prince of West End Avenue (1994), among others, stays true to form with this immensely funny and sad story about the slippery road to identity.

The narrator is Edmond Music, an errant Catholic priest, born a French Jew. At one point, the erudite Edmond explains that priesthood is but a job: “Hypocrisy is a constant of the human condition, unavoidable, as necessary to our well-being as meat and drink.” So he lives well at Beale Hall, an English country estate, where he reflects on human behavior with the aid of arcane or about-to-be arcane books and thoughts, particularly those of Solomon Reuben Hayyim Falsch, the Pish, and William Shakespeare, the Bard. The story opens with Edmond in a bar contemplating the announcement that he’s been killed in a freak automobile accident, driving his “modest Morris Minor of a certain age, into the famous Stuart Oak of the Beale estate.” It turns out that the badly mangled victim was Trevor Stuffins, a local worker. Edmond sips his Calvados and toys with the idea that the Vatican may have sent henchmen who fiddled with his brakes, causing the accident, because the Vatican wants to remove him from his grand digs. Soon Edmond is involved in a contest of wits with his lifelong enemy, the American priest Fred Twombly, who calls him SJ (for “secret Jew”). Twombly has finally found the means to bring Edmond down: he’s stumbled upon knowledge of a priceless Shakespeare folio, possibly missing from Beale Hall’s fabulous library, entitled Dyuers and Sondry Sonettes. Edmond feints, seeking solutions to the problems raised by the missing folio in his Pishiana collection, while others—especially his unhappy lover, housekeeper Maude; his aging dangerously factotum, Father Bastien; and the vile Twombly—keep the action moving at a brisk pace. All the characters are superbly realized, but Edmond, a man battling with himself at the close of his life, is the most engaging.

A profound tale, with its profundity couched in irreligious humor.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-684-8620

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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