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H & G

In a book that is part tale, part confession, part scholarly analysis, Hong occasionally gets lost in the luxury of her own...

Gretel is all grown up but still lost in the wilderness of her own psychology in this acute and eerie reimagining of the classic fairy tale.

Hong's (Age of Glass, 2018) rendering of the iconic story includes all the familiar elements: A faithless father and wicked stepmother abandon two children in an enchanted wood, where they meet a hungry witch in her candy house. The traditional focal point of the story is when brave Gretel rescues her brother by pushing the witch into the oven, but—while the book deals with the grisly (and sticky) aftermath of the witch's demise in queasy detail—in this iteration the reader is directed to consider what comes next. H. and G. have returned home to their father's cottage and grown up. H., who "had always wanted to go home," who "wanted badly to believe that his Father loved him...that it was only temporary insanity that had made him pack his children off into the forest," has kept living the life that was meant for him before his abandonment. G., on the other hand, has remained the same girl "who had survived a great trial through remarkable grit, force, luck, and ruthless decisiveness" and has left home at the age of 10 with nothing but a small red box and her abbreviated name. Both H. and G. carry with them the laborious scars of their childhood, and Hong brings to bear her considerable formal talents as a poet as she explores the nuances of those scars. Told in the form of poems, lists, outlines, dreams, and endless, cyclical alternatives, the book pushes past the blueprint of the story's original framework and delves into the hazy realms of identity, memory, pain, and healing. Eventually, Hong comes to a specific and slippery truth about the societies we embed ourselves within: "Abundance and logic can cure everything but heartache and the drive to drown it or kill it."

In a book that is part tale, part confession, part scholarly analysis, Hong occasionally gets lost in the luxury of her own language. What remains, however, rises above a simple modernization to gleam as tantalizing and as strange as the wink of a pane of sugar glass glimpsed through the boughs of the deep, dark woods.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-940090-08-5

Page Count: 59

Publisher: Sidebrow Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 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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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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