A sunny look at the dark side, as a poster group—a Vietnam vet, an Asian immigrant, a Native American, and an African- American widow’serendipitously find happiness at an Oklahoma diner. Letts (Where the Heart Is, 1995, etc.), while a deft scene-setter, offers characters whose pain seems a plot accessory to be worn until something better comes along—and whose ultimate happiness feels as superficial as their previous misery. First, there’s Vietnam vet Carney, who lost his legs in the war and now runs the cafÇ. Helping him is widow Molly O, worried about her runaway teenage daughter Brenda, who wants to be a country music star. Also hanging out are locals like widower —Life,— who has his eye on Moll; notorious gossip Wanda Sue; and three old Cherokee friends and WWII vets, Hooks, Soldier, and Quentin. Carney, a former rodeo star, is so depressed that he never goes outside—until Native American Vena Take Horse arrives one evening with a wounded dog in her arms (and a lot of psychic baggage). Vena’s past includes drug addiction, a bad marriage, and an abortion, and she’s still grieving over favorite sister Helen’s suicide. But she loves animals, knows old Indian remedies, and soon has the dog cured and Carney back on horseback—and in love with her. To add to the mix and help Carney sort out his feelings about —Nam is the new cook, Vietnamese immigrant Bui, who’s saving his wages to bring his wife over to the States. Bui angers Sam, a local bigot who dies whole trying to kill him, after which Bui wins the friendship of African-American Galilee when he rebuilds her church. Vena, now pregnant and still troubled by her past, runs away, but she finds herself again, and everyone—including newly arrived Bui’s wife—gathers back at The Honk and Holler to celebrate. Happiness lite.

Pub Date: June 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-446-52158-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1998

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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