Erudite tales that should prompt readers, just like the characters, to contemplate existentially.

Dark Matters: Seven Variations on a Theme

A debut collection of seven stories follows the struggle of ordinary characters facing extraordinary circumstances.

Wilma Watts is happy in her small Wisconsin town, waitressing and spending evenings at home with her dog in “Wilma and Harry.” But something happens that will alter everything for her, a change that Wilma may not be prepared to handle. Characters throughout the book are much the same, resigned to complacency that ultimately won’t last. Terry Addams of “Sweet Liberty” is happy with his unattached existence, bouncing from port to port, until he realizes in Central America that he may be a scapegoat for murder. In “Pilgrimage: A Modern Parable,” English teacher Dante McCullough’s annual trip to pay respects to his late mentor leads the unbeliever to question the notion of a soul and salvation. While there’s a major decision for each character to make, not every story reveals the final choice or its consequence. What, for example, will Wallace Wiggins do in “Embarrassment of Riches: A Romance”? Newly rich after selling his plumbing business, Wallace craves the freedom enjoyed by the wealthy while also being torn between potential love for Eunice Ellis and lust for Eunice’s daughter Linda. Similarly, the titular mountain recluse in “What Maisie Knew” feels she should help Jimmy, a man in need—and very possibly a murderer. The stories can occasionally wallow in gloom but have their share of cheerful moments. Freddie, for one, was an apparently hapless, depressed alcoholic when the war veteran died in the snow in “Rain.” But Arthur realizes he might not have known his little brother once a posthumous search through Freddie’s attic uncovers poetry and love letters. The best story is also the collection’s finale, “The Master.” Oliver Eiger, a schoolmaster at prep school St. Swithin’s, truly appreciates his stellar position at home and work. His jubilance is nevertheless shattered when the headmaster convinces him to give an affluent businessman’s son a slightly better grade and Eiger learns that his wife, Brooke, may be cheating on him. It ends the book on a high, a story more amusing than bitter that adds a cynical spin to the title.

Erudite tales that should prompt readers, just like the characters, to contemplate existentially.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-941573-09-9

Page Count: 148

Publisher: Damianos Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2016

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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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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