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FROM FIELDS OF GOLD

Slim pickings from the turn-of-the-century North Carolina tobacco industry, by the author of Scarlett (not reviewed) and a slew of other Southern-fried fiction (New Orleans Legacy, 1987, etc.). Nate Richardson is a virile and promiscuous 18-year-old tobacco farmer who falls in lust with Lily Gaskins, the coquette who marries his preacher brother, Gideon. The newlyweds move far away, enabling Nate to focus on his big plan to take over the burgeoning cigarette industry. A crucial part of his project involves wresting the patent for a revolutionary new cigarette- rolling machine from its doddering inventor, but the machine's price tag is high: Nate must marry the inventor's granddaughter, Francesca (Chess) Standish, and promise to give her children. Chess's head for books and figures serves charming front-man Nate well; the two are happy as partners, and business takes off. Nate's tobacco is the most golden and the tastiest; the machine he builds is better than that of the competition. His family quickly goes from picking worms off tobacco leaves to selecting fine clothing and furnishings for their nouveau-riche mansions. Although she loves him, Chess and Nate both remain dissatisfied with their sex life, which comes and goes in quick, cold spurts. Nate keeps mistresses, including Lily. Chess raises their daughter and doesn't know what she's missing until she meets her cousin Lord Randall Standish on a trip to London. Nate, busy selling cigarettes to the Brits, doesn't notice that Chess falls rapturously into the lord's arms, where she learns the pleasures of the flesh. Returning to America, they learn that Lily's next child may be Nate's and that Lord Randall wants Chess back; the couple must decide whether to dissolve the partnership or fall in love. Unfortunately, Ripley provides little conflict, no subplots, and holds off on the steamy scenes until much too late in the book. A paperback original spilling out of its hardcover corset.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 1994

ISBN: 0-446-51406-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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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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