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CAVEMAN AT THE END OF THE WORLD

A conspiracy story buoyed by childlike weirdness and heart.

This surreal fantasy finds a woman legally bound to a short, hairy man of unknown origin.

Ella Pearson lives in the City, though she’d love nothing more than to farm or roam the beach. She’s a marketing executive, dating a kind (if oblivious) man named Andy, whose young daughter, Clara, loves to tinker with broken appliances. One night, having decided to break up with Andy, Ella returns to their apartment to find someone in Clara’s room. The intruder is “exceptionally hairy, but so diminutive, with pudgy cheeks, as though he were equal parts chipmunk and man.” Ella wonders if her prescription of Represitol hasn’t triggered hallucinations or paranoia but calls the police anyway. When it’s revealed that Clara let the caveman inside the apartment, the police tell Ella that his removal is now a task for Social Services. Meanwhile, someone has vandalized the Temple of the First Assembly, and Ella’s firm, CCI, helps with the church’s response. When Ella’s boss, Warner, notices her exhaustion, he suggests a vacation to East Gish, her hometown. Later, she finds a picture of a childhood friend, Timmy Crace, and wonders why she barely recalls him. In his absurd, endearing tale, Rau (The Ghost, Josephine, 2015) pokes fun at religion, officialdom, and parenthood while examining life’s larger questions. His vicious sense of humor, clearly not intended to please everyone, is incisive, as when churchgoers fill the pews “with the rote order of overfed livestock.” The author’s dedication to portraying bureaucracy as inane is commendable, to the point where the reader wishes Ella would just slap Agent Sickens from the Office of Sentient Affairs (“Ms. Pearson, if that’s what the file says, then that’s where you live”). As a nightmarish plot surrounds Ella, she learns to detest the caveman (eventually named Ernie) less and less. Rau succeeds in drawing readers into his woolly world, but the audience will need patience while the narrative gropes for a stopping point.

A conspiracy story buoyed by childlike weirdness and heart.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-88431-7

Page Count: 435

Publisher: SmallPub

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

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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