Not even a last-minute death and the tension of ambiguities—what is Flaca’s real name? who is Soledad’s real father?—are...

SOLEDAD

A choppy debut from young activist and teacher Cruz attempts to record the Dominican experience in New York City.

Soledad returns to her family’s Washington Heights neighborhood from her downtown art-gallery job when her mother, Olivia, falls mysteriously ill. It’s this illness—Olivia’s already a “living ghost,” living in a state somewhere between depression and coma—that serves as the story’s apparatus of Dominican mysticism: the vehicle on which we will tour “Nueva Yol.” We meet Flaca, Soledad’s slutty teenaged sister, and Richie, a neighborhood tough, then follow the love triangle that ensues among them, the source of what little tension there is. A string of subplots and minor characters follow, including Ciego, the requisite wise blind man, and Toe-Knee, the token non-Dominican (he’s a black drug dealer), but none of them is particularly well-drawn, and there’s no real reason Soledad is the titular character. After things get moving, there’s also a parade of prostitutes and palm readers and magicians with their sauces and specialties, and though we’ve been assured that the ’hood is filled with hoods, Richie turns out to be a talented musician, Soledad an artist, Flaca an undiscovered prodigy, and Ciego an insightful anthropologist—self-taught, of course. This is the world where people literally say “Wassup?” to each other. It’s Do the Right Cosa, and sometimes Cruz’s bleeds into unnecessary Spanish, perhaps there to remind the gringos that folk from D.R. speak a different language, are more than banal: they’re a reminder that the story is ultimately addressed to an audience of blanquitos. The odd moment when Cruz seems to capture genuineness—a man cradles his spittoon in his lap, men play dominos on tables meant for chess—seem accidental in light of the fray of rote narrative choices.

Not even a last-minute death and the tension of ambiguities—what is Flaca’s real name? who is Soledad’s real father?—are enough to redeem this unambitious first effort.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2001

ISBN: 0-7432-1201-0

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2001

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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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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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