THE BOHEMIAN AND THE ABOLITIONIST

A CIVIL WAR NOVEL

A learned, absorbing tale of bondage, freedom, war, and peace.

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Prehn’s debut historical novel drops readers into the commingling world of artists, abolitionists, and free spirits in the Greenwich Village of the late 1850s and early 1860s.   

The opening pages of this sprawling work introduce 24-year-old Wendell Harte Parry, a rising American painter for whom “financial success seems more elusive even than fame.” Soon after his return to New York City from a grand tour of Europe, just before the Civil War, Wendell meets Lillian Flax, a pretty young woman who “gave him a smile that made him feel, foolishly, that he was falling.” Within a few pages, Walt Whitman—in the flesh—serenades them with his poem “To a Stranger,” which Prehn—in a gesture that might have horrified the real-life Whitman—center justifies on the page. To Wendell’s displeasure, Lillian turns out to be married to cruel shipping mogul Henry Ferguson, who happens to be Wendell’s patron. Before long, Lillian’s abolitionist activity, and particularly her support for the radical John Brown, puts her in danger. Although he promised Lillian that he wouldn’t pick up a gun, Wendell joins the Union Army and later struggles for his life at Bull Run, where “death and gun-powder hung in the air like the devil’s laundry.” Prehn has quite obviously done extensive research, and she’s effectively fluent in the cultural currents of the era. She convincingly presents a whirlwind of real-life famous figures: actress and writer Ada Clare teaches Wendell what a bohemian is, and he, in turn, becomes one himself; painter Frederick Church and Wendell critique and celebrate one another’s work; author Louisa May Alcott welcomes Wendell and Lillian to her home and joins them to visit Henry David Thoreau in Massachusetts. The characters’ conversations—about the latest New York Tribune column by Karl Marx, say, or the dangers of harboring fugitives—often seem as if Prehn had only just overheard them. As a result, her novel is not just a rousing story of two lovers—it also offers readers a welcome historical education.  

A learned, absorbing tale of bondage, freedom, war, and peace.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-89290-9

Page Count: 500

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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