A terrifically energetic, modern update of Dante.

BUILDING HEAVEN

A law professor sets out on a philosophical quest, examining the nature of the afterlife.

This novel opens in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where professor Pete Herlinger has been in a coma for five years, since the car accident that wiped out his entire family in an instant. To the amazement of the hospital staff, he one day begins waking up, asking about his family—his parents, wife, and child were all in the car with him. His first heartbreaking realization is that they are all gone. He has no religious consolation: in fact, the conversation in the vehicle immediately prior to the crash heatedly revolved around the fact that, much to the outrage of his parents, Pete and his wife were raising their son to think God is basically a myth. After he wakes up, Pete finds himself in the unexpected position of yearning for any kind of afterlife in which his loved ones still survive. “Heaven is my family in the car before the crash,” he muses. “Heaven is my wife beside me, my son and parents in the back seat…enjoying their company, forever.” Ironically, given his previous state of nonbelief, Pete now embarks on “a good psychic freak-out,” visiting an afterlife like no religion has ever dared to imagine, a surreal, godless world where individual fantasies play out with endless abandon. His guide is his father, a transsexual now free to be—and appear as—a beautiful woman. The more Pete learns about this realm, the stranger it seems to him, especially with a mysterious figure known as the Commissar playing devil’s advocate. (“There is energy, there is dissipation,” he asserts. “There is nothing else.”) Author and Emmy Award–winning screenwriter Osborne (Blue Estate, 2014, etc.) conveys all of this with a thoroughly practiced hand. The characters stand out, the brisk pacing—particularly the comic beats—is spotlessly achieved, and the dialogue is crisp and compulsively readable. At one point, Pete and his father discuss the concept of reality. Dad: “For what it’s worth, a handy definition of Reality is precisely that which does not cease to exist when you stop believing in it.” Pete: “Philip K. Dick?” Dad: “Ah...so you’ve heard that one before.” Religious and atheist readers alike should find their certainties wonderfully upset.

A terrifically energetic, modern update of Dante.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9968613-2-8

Page Count: 362

Publisher: Lost Pilgrim Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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