Tender, funny, and touching: a fitting close to an admirable career.


In her elegiac final novel, the late Adams picks up the story of Cynthia and Harry Baird where she left off in A Southern Exposure (1995).

It’s now August 1944, and Cynthia is home in Pinehill, the southern college town to which the couple relocated during the Depression. Harry, a naval officer, is stationed in London; daughter Abigail is about to start at Swarthmore. The opening scene, a party for Abigail and her Radcliffe-bound friend Melanctha Byrd, sets the stage with Adams's customary deftness. Cynthia is having an affair with war correspondent Derek McFall, who is “not in love with her, not at all.” Her maid Odessa, a stately black woman whose husband is also in the Navy, likes Cynthia but has little use for “her supposed best friend” Dolly Bigelow, a near-caricature of the bigoted southern belle who later proves to be not quite as dumb or prejudiced as she seems. Melanctha's father, alcoholic poet James Russell Lowell Byrd, and his much younger second wife, Deirdre, are among the other locals in attendance as readers absorb the town's ingrown, gossipy nature. Up north, meanwhile, Abigail falls in love with James Marcus, son of New York Jewish communists satirized with wicked accuracy as straitjacketed by their world's conventions just as tightly Cynthia's southern neighbors. Despite a plethora of love affairs and two deaths, almost everyone is essentially marking time, aware that America will be dramatically different “after the war.” The story closes two years later with a wedding. Most of the characters (depicted with Adams's trademark sensitivity) have made meaningful changes in their lives; even Cynthia and Harry's complex marriage seems to be healing after a rocky reunion. As in most of Adams's fiction, the quiet narrative concerns itself less with political issues (though white racism is a constant subtext) than with personal struggles, which coalesce to create an overall atmosphere of a slightly anxious yet always eager embrace of life's possibilities.

Tender, funny, and touching: a fitting close to an admirable career.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-40683-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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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