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THE LIVING

The popular Pulitzer-winning Dillard (An American Childhood, 1987, The Writing Life, 1989, etc.) has come up with a novel at last—a panoramic and engrossing re-creation of 19th-century pioneer life in the Pacific Northwest—complete with gentlemanly gold miners, avuncular railroad speculators, misty-eyed sweethearts, assorted schemers and dreamers, and even a three-card-monte player or two. Ada and Rooney Fishburn were barely into their early 20s when they set off by covered wagon for the untamed western coastland just south of Canada. Youthful ignorance and optimism proved to be their greatest assets, though, as they arrived at Whatcom, a minuscule settlement in Bellingham Bay, and threw themselves into a lifelong battle against the physical hardship, grueling labor, and frequent tragedies of frontier life. With the help of other setters and a tribe of friendly Lummi Indians, the Fishburns managed to survive—long enough to watch with amazement as gold, railroads, and real estate brought undreamed-of fortune and calamity to their isolated shore. By the time the two surviving Fishburn sons were grown, an ever-increasing influx of shopkeepers, politicians, and entrepreneurs arriving from the Midwest, the East Coast, and Europe had quickened the rhythms of the town sufficiently to send all of Whatcom's fortunes reeling. New personalities joined the fray, including John Ireland Sharp, the soul-searching school principal forever marked by the poverty he witnessed in New York City; Minta and June Randall, Baltimore heiresses who bet their hearts and their inheritances on this coastland; Johnny Lee, a Chinese railway worker whose younger brother was deliberately drowned; and brooding, depraved Beal Obenchain, who toyed with his fellow settlers' psyches as a form of recreation. As usual in Dillard's work, sparkling prose and striking insights abound, though a tendency toward overdescription, plus a certain emotional distance from her many characters—who must regularly vacate the stage to let others have a turn—take some of the power out of her punch. Otherwise: a triumph of narrative skill and faithful research—headed for success.

Pub Date: May 6, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-016870-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1992

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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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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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