CLIMBING THE COLISEUM

A disenchanted, depressed psychologist finds himself caring for a rebellious teenage girl and helping police investigate a racist group in Percy’s debut thriller.
Psychologist Ed Northrup is “burned out” and unhappy in Monastery Valley, Montana, and still feels guilt over a young patient’s death from 27 years ago. His adulterous ex-wife, Mara, wants Ed’s professional opinion on her 14-year-old daughter, Grace, who’s twice attempted suicide. When Ed repeatedly declines over the phone, Mara defiantly shows up in person with her daughter in tow. Soon, Ed is dealing directly with Grace, an opinionated, stubborn teen who’s terrified of abandonment. At the same time, he works with cops on a case that indirectly involves another of his patients, Maggie; her husband, Vic, who’s suspected of abusing her, may be linked to a hate group that’s posting flyers opposing an African-American gubernatorial candidate. Percy highlights the story’s thriller components, such as the unsettling nature of the hate group, the Church of Jesus Christ of the American Promise, which offers its potential members assistance with tax problems before ultimately preaching racist sentiments. But the true focus, and the stronger subplot, is the tremulous relationship between Ed and Grace. It’s tough to sympathize with the foul-mouthed Grace, despite her predicament; she’s rude to nearly everyone, including a waitress who tells her she can’t order a burger before the lunch service begins. But whether readers find Grace an object of pity or annoyance, she’ll definitely ignite an emotional response. (The plotline involving Vic and the church is resolved well before the end, and the book closes, quite appropriately, with Ed and Grace.) Percy superbly relates much of the story with visuals: the recurrent image of Grace with her hood up and face in her phone; a belligerent church assistant’s Stetson, which inspires a nickname; and Ed imagining his depression as a snarling black dog. The sole female deputy, Andi Pelton, is a laudable character as she adjusts to her new job, but it’s somewhat predictable that she’s Ed’s romantic interest.

A light, breezy thriller, but its tale of a troubled man acting as a father to an equally troubled girl has exceptional dramatic impact.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499009606

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2014

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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