THE DYLANIST

Dissent editor Morton's first novel—a smooth, eloquent, but thoroughly unsatisfying tale of a red-diaper baby who comes of age. Sally Burke is a clever and perceptive girl who suffers a tremendous confusion. The daughter of fiercely committed left-wing activists—her mother a radical freethinker, her father a communist union-organizer—she finds little comfort in their political certainties, but cannot see any plausible way of rebelling against them. So she drifts on, unhappily uncommitted, increasingly depressed, and preternaturally (if rather endearingly) cynical. At school, where she finds herself surrounded by classmates who define themselves through their ambitions, she feels ``roadless.'' At home, growing up in an environment where virtue is equated with sacrifice, she doubts her ability to love. ``Sally knew an eagle had been implanted in her skull and was struggling to break free,'' but, lacking her parents' certitude and her friends' confidence, she feels earthbound and listless. Her sympathies are engaged first by Owen, a young writer whose simplicity and helplessness provide her with an object of devotion—but she is eventually worn down by his childishness. Ben McMahon, her next lover, is another unionizer who recognizes Sally's quandary: she is a ``Dylanist,'' a wanderer for whom feelings and experience are ends in themselves. Through her father's death she gains an awareness of mortality, and concludes that she can continue his struggle in domestic (rather than political) terms by raising a family of her own. This salvation-through-motherhood approach has a hollow ring, however, and seems a forced solution to an unresolved problem. A nicely written tale that badly wants a climax—so badly, in fact, that the author settles for an ending that doesn't fit the story. Enjoyable but seriously flawed.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 1991

ISBN: 0-06-016662-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1991

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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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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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