ACCORDING TO MY FATHER

An intricate tale for readers open to a jaunt along the outer rim of narrative possibility.

A time-hopping novel explores a father’s boundless interests and the loyal maid attempting to corral him.

In a repressive nation, an unnamed narrator tells readers that his father “dreamed with his eyes tightly shut or wide open.” The narrator depicts believable notions of a man who is a detective or a magician, but also delivers more whimsical stories of one who is ageless. This father becomes the first man to fly in a hot air balloon when he lives in Florence during the Renaissance. He invents zero, and performs ventriloquism in ancient Rome. The father’s maid, whom he loves and constantly tries to woo (“How about I give you the world?”), cleans up their home and his disastrous forays into public life. As he tries to open a bordello, the state’s secret police arrive to arrest him and his “bevy of beauties.” When interrogation leads nowhere, the authorities destroy all records of the man, thus “freeing him...not only from the clutches of the state but from his own as well.” This suits the father because he loathes facts, history, and labels. Later, during a bloody revolution, he operates a carousel in the city. He’s once again arrested, and his reputation as a clever agitator grows. The state gives him a butcher shop to run so that it can monitor him better while he clings “to our maid the way he must have clung to...the dangerous ledges of the mountains” in a previous life. Will madness someday engulf this serial experimenter? With an ear keenly attuned to the ridiculous, Grof (Artists, 2016) chronicles life in a brutal regime that requires a strong imagination to survive. He introduces vignettes such as “My father an alchemist” or “My father uninterested in facts,” and by leaving out the linking verbs (is or was, for example), the prose brings to mind the titles of paintings in a gallery. The father’s past lives can indeed be enjoyed in any order. But scenes involving the maid and the state proceed linearly, though the author obsessively muddles these with lines like “My father no one’s fool. Or throughout his long life my father everyone’s fool including his own.” The father becomes like Schrödinger’s cat before the box opens, existing in two—or sometimes more—states at once (“My father fearing loneliness. My father seeking nothing so fervently as a solitary existence”). This narrative play, whereby readers might flirt with multiple emotional paths throughout the novel, provides relief from the more concrete, mainstream reading experience. Yet one instance when this technique backfires is in discovering that the father during World War II flew planes for the Allies, and “could have just as easily joined the Luftwaffe, but their manners as well as their uniforms” didn’t appeal to him. Obviously history judges the Nazis by much more serious criteria. Overall, readers may favor the grounded episodes that allow them to latch onto this fractious character more than the flights of fancy.

An intricate tale for readers open to a jaunt along the outer rim of narrative possibility.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63293-227-3

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Sunstone Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2018

Categories:

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 30


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015


  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner


  • National Book Award Finalist

A LITTLE LIFE

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

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 30


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015


  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner


  • National Book Award Finalist

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

Categories:

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

Categories:
Close Quickview