The authenticity of this account of a stark American journey remains undeniable; best enjoyed as a historically rich memoir.

The Road To LaReta


In this debut autobiographical novel, King chronicles her father’s early Depression-era life while he completes a 900-mile road trip to attend the funeral of his estranged wife and reunite with his 3-year-old daughter, LaReta.

The eponymous road Webb Bateman takes throughout the book literally runs from Nebraska, through Wyoming and Montana, and ends in his home state of North Dakota. As he travels in March 1939, the landscape is cold and bleak, his car is far from reliable, and, thanks to his loyal but long-suffering family, he has a few dollars for gas plus an inquisitive sister and a bottle of whiskey as companions. By age 28, when Webb embarks on this desolate journey, he is eking out a living as a heavy machinery operator. Reared in a big Midwestern family with no financial security, he has worked at many daunting and backbreaking jobs—on farms, in mines, in a traveling circus—always moving when a new opportunity arises. Webb is also a young charmer who likes to drink, gamble, and romance girls. He marries the pregnant Dorothy in 1935, but his peripatetic life and reluctance to commit to his family cause her great distress. Through her actual letters to Webb, readers learn of her constant money troubles and her fervent wish for him to join in parenting her beloved LaReta, even briefly. He regrets his inadequacies as a father and husband and fears Dorothy’s disapproving family. The book is an amalgam of memoir, family scrapbook, and encyclopedic inclusions of Depression-era culture. Some photos and letters are impelling. With the accompanying photo, the depiction of “Honest Bill’s Motorized Circus” makes an indelible impression, as when Ben, an old-timer, informs Webb and his brother that, “ ‘Jargo’ means, why pay for a real animal, when two guys dressed up like one will do....One of you is the back end and the other is the front end holding up the neck and head.” But exhaustive explanations of the Civilian Conservation Corp., the workings of the 1923 Model T, among many other details, contribute little.

The authenticity of this account of a stark American journey remains undeniable; best enjoyed as a historically rich memoir.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9979391-0-1

Page Count: 346

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2016

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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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