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CROOKED LITTLE HEART

After a very successful nonfiction run (Bird by Bird, 1994, etc), Lamott returns with her fifth novel seemingly refreshed and invigorated with a further exploration of the world of Rosie Ferguson, the awkward adolescent tennis champion first seen in Rosie (1983). Safely nestled in suburbia, surrounded by loving adults, and bolstered by her success as half of the top-ranked tennis team in the northern California girls 14-and-under doubles, Rosie lives a life sufficiently all-American to include a haunting sense of impending disaster. This sense of foreboding, shared by just about everyone Rosie knows, is personified in the form of Luther, a shabby, middle-aged loner who hangs around the area's tennis courts watching the young girls compete. Rosie's mother, Elizabeth, a recovered alcoholic, must fight the temptation to pin all her free- floating anxieties on creepy Luther, who's really just a distraction from her own troubling directionlessness and depression. Elizabeth's tendency to spend the day in her darkened bedroom is hurting her marriage and scaring Rosie, who alternately longs to nurse her mother back to health and to strangle her for being so weak. And Rosie has enough worries without this: Her best friend and tennis partner, Simone, has been experimenting with sex while skinny Rosie can hardly justify wearing a training bra; a beloved family friend is dying; and Rosie finds herself curiously drawn to Luther. Despite the adults' best efforts to help Rosie cope with her anxieties, maturity alone can teach her to let others make their own mistakes and to accept the tragedies of life along with the miracles. As usual, Lamott's brand of winsome wisdom begins to grate just a bit (all of her characters are on intimate terms with Recovery jargon, and even Luther, whom Rosie finally meets, offers predictably mellow observations). But the greater depth, complexity, and seriousness here make up for the smiley faces and rainbows. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 10, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-43521-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

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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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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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