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AFTER THE WAR

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 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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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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