Vintage Smith, of a body and bouquet that even Bruce would appreciate.

ESPRESSO TALES

THE LATEST FROM 44 SCOTLAND STREET

Further adventures of the inhabitants of the Edinburgh townhouse that provided the primary setting for this novel's beguiling predecessor, 44 Scotland Street (2005).

Its 105 brief chapters (again, originally published as daily installments appearing in The Scotsman newspaper) reveal a passel of irresistibly eccentric characters, comprising a spectrum of humanity that ranges from embattled innocence through romantic befuddlement to the fringes of contented old age. University student Pat MacGregor embraces the brisk energies of Edinburgh, but not necessarily the attentions of an attractive bloke who casually invites her to a “nudist picnic.” Her flatmate, absurdly handsome and narcissistic Bruce, foresees prosperity as owner of a trendy wine shop, but manages as usual to overestimate both his own charms and his friends’ tolerance levels. Art gallery owner Matthew resolves to protect his widowed father Gordon’s wealth from an amiable “gold-digger”—with astonishingly unexpected results. In the best sequence, six-year-old prodigy Bertie seeks the strength to resist his mother Irene’s soul-cramping progressive educational scheme. Bertie’s determination to become a real boy is conveyed with impressive pathos, as is the “education” (so to speak) of his hitherto passive father, Stuart, who learns at last to assert himself, and foil Irene’s micromanaging. Smith is a master of juxtaposition, and the considerable pleasures this novel offers are diluted only by a rather more frequent recourse to omniscient authorial commentary than was employed in 44 Scotland Street, and by excessive space given to two comparatively uninteresting characters. Sprightly cosmopolitan dowager Domenica Macdonald is an unhappy fusion of Muriel Spark and Auntie Mame. And in successive excerpts from conservative prig Ramsey Dunbarton’s preening memoirs, Smith manages only to make a suffocating bore . . . well, suffocatingly boring. But they are exceptions in a winning human comedy redeemed and energized by its author’s manifest affection for even the silliest of his creations.

Vintage Smith, of a body and bouquet that even Bruce would appreciate.

Pub Date: July 11, 2006

ISBN: 0-307-27597-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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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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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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