A very impressive debut with a well-developed protagonist.

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ELM & NORTH

In Kostival’s debut novel, a man deals with the fact that his body is turning to bone.

Morris Proot was diagnosed at 29 with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, a very rare but real and horrible condition in which the body’s bone-repair mechanism goes haywire. Any injury, however minor, encourages inappropriate, superfluous bone growth; eventually, sufferers’ bodies lock up. Ten years on, Morris is cobbling together a life for himself near Portland, Maine, as a school bus driver. He lives alone in an apartment with lots of books and scant furniture. He’s no friend of humanity at large; in fact, he’s understandably resentful and cynical. But he’s also friends with a crusty old man named Cap and in love with a woman named Joan. After Cap dies and Joan moves away, Morris begins to write long letters to a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania who’s the world’s leading expert on FOP. These letters, in fact, make up half of the novel, and Morris becomes frustrated that the doctor doesn’t answer them. Morris is relegated to a job as a crossing guard after fighting with a parent and unsuccessfully attempts suicide. Finally, he heads to Philadelphia to confront the doctor, and readers discover the truth about the letters. Kostival is a very strong writer, and Morris is a tour de force of a character—he’s bitter, yes, and spends most of his time railing against the human condition in general and his own condition in particular, as seen in his letters to the doctor. But he’s also shown to be capable of loving those who are lovable, and he’s immensely intelligent and well-read. One may open the book anywhere and encounter a striking line, such as “Proot’s revanchist anger was met blow-for-blow by [bus passenger] Fetal Hitler’s irredentist rage.”

A very impressive debut with a well-developed protagonist.

Pub Date: June 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9984146-3-8

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Radial Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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