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RADIAL BLOOM

Brilliant, at once dense and ethereal; rewards multiple readings.

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Ratto Parks’ (Song of Days, Torn and Mended, 2015, etc.) mosaic novel pieces together the inner life of a woman through a succession of prose poems.

After alliteratively establishing her “normalcy” in the prologue—“Before you know the rest, you should know this: I live in a pleasant house on a quiet street in a modern-day Mayberry with mountains”—Ratto Parks’ protagonist proceeds to tell of her most irregular inner being in a series of poetic vignettes. The pieces focus on a man, perhaps a muse, perhaps a ghost, or maybe an adult version of an imaginary friend, a conjured personification of cravings, desires, and thwarted fulfillment; he is sometimes a lover, sometimes cruel, and sometimes just a friend playing catch with a baseball. Ratto Parks’ work is contemplative and original: “I sat at the end of the long hall of myself watching my life while I witnessed all of those sacred places invaded” or “the silent ghost of old traffic made every sound bright.” She augments her own polished verse with references, allusions, and outright quotes from a wide variety of people and sources: Dante, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, R.M. Rilke, and even John Wayne. Hallucinatory and dreamlike, the author repeatedly considers themes of loss either in water (“Then we finally gave in to the stones in our pockets and we sank through the salt brine”) or simply into thin air (“off like kites blowing endless through the ether”). Throughout, her dream man and dream land prove as fickle as reality. He often comes and goes at whim; appearing and disappearing without warning: “He was there after the rain, in the night lawns, thick and arcing, and I could feel him leaving me, falling away from the fabric of human air.”

Brilliant, at once dense and ethereal; rewards multiple readings.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61019-114-2

Page Count: 84

Publisher: Folded Word

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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