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STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING

A sharp, sad portrait of the vagaries of the literary life. Schiller, the author of four well-received but long out-of- print novels, a tidy, precise, ironic figure, and a man consumed much of his life by the need to pursue the ``perfection of the work,'' has long since given up on any real hope of visibility when a young woman seeks him out. Heather, just 24, is writing her master's thesis on Schiller's slender body of work. Ambitious, blithely self-centered, she views Schiller as a useful crusade, a way of forcing herself onto the academic and publishing scenes. The elderly Schiller, left fragile and exhausted by a series of brushes with mortality, is at first wary of her, bemused by the idea of anyone paying much attention to what he views as a failed career. Her insistent presence also prods he into coming to grips with the guilt and regret he has stored up about his life, including the early death of his wife, and the hectic, unfocused life of Ariel, his middle-aged daughter. Almost inevitably, Schiller finds himself falling in love with the seemingly worshipful Heather, an emotion she encourages, with predictably dire results. Schiller is moved to begin again on a novel long set aside, and Heather imagines that she will be the muse inspiring the creation of his greatest work. Then Schiller has a stroke and, in a series of terse, acerbic scenes, Morton deftly strips away the illusions these characters have spun about their lives. Ariel finds a measure of independence and maturity and, in a nicely rendered interlude, a chance at genuine romance. Heather's lies and manipulations catch up with her, though her exposure does not necessarily alter her behavior. And Schiller, near death, begins to reach some measure of peace. Second-novelist Morton (The Dylanist, 1991) believably anatomizes the yearnings (and furies) that fuel the literary life, and in Schiller he has shaped a sad, wry portrait of the writer as a deluded but decent—and ultimately rather noble—Everyman.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-517-70862-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1997

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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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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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