THE STORY SISTERS

A near-miss from this uneven but always compelling writer.

An act of child abuse has lasting consequences in Hoffman’s painfully moving novel (The Third Angel, 2008, etc.).

The summer Claire Story was 8 and her sister Elv was 11, a man tried to abduct Claire in his car; Elv jumped in, told Claire to jump out, and it was hours before she returned. They never told their mother Annie or middle sister Meg—their father walked out that same summer—and neither girl was ever the same. As the main narrative opens, when Elv is 15, she’s becoming an out-of-control adolescent increasingly at odds with careful, rule-following Meg. Racked with guilt over the unknown horrors her sister endured in her place, Claire tries to be loyal, but as Elv’s drug use and promiscuity escalate, she backs away. The desperate Annie finally takes Elv to a rehab facility, enlisting the reluctant support of her selfish ex-husband, who insists it’s all her fault. At the facility, Elv meets Lorry, a thief and addict who introduces her to heroin, but who also really loves her. The chronology speeds up after Elv comes home and a dreadful accident seals her alienation from her family. Hoffman paints wrenching scenes of tentative efforts at reconciliation that just barely fail, as Elv becomes pregnant and cleans up, but loses Lorry to his “fatal flaw.” A kindly detective brings late-life happiness to Annie and metes out delayed justice to Elv’s abuser, but the disasters keep coming. Two sisters grow into adulthood, dreadfully damaged by the losses they’ve endured and their punishing self-blame for the mistakes they made. Hoffman’s habitual allusions to mysterious supernatural forces are very jarring in this context, as is the endless interpolation of memories from the terrible abduction; she could have trusted her readers to get the point with out constant prodding. A radiant denouement shows love redeeming the surviving sisters, and there are beautiful moments throughout, but they don’t entirely compensate for Hoffman’s excesses of plot and tone.

A near-miss from this uneven but always compelling writer.

Pub Date: June 2, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-39386-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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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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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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