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

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RADIAL BLOOM

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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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