Portis's latest combines the same hard-boiled goofiness and swift storytelling that make his earlier books (Masters of Atlantis, 1985, etc.), so enjoyably original. This one's a sweaty intrigue, set south of the border, that toys with cosmic themes, only to reduce them to their deservedly comic size. The expatriate community living near the Yucatan includes all kinds of kooks, dypsos, and schemers. The only sane and stable gringo here seems to be the somewhat mysterious narrator, Jimmy Burns, a self-described "lugubrious bore" who fancies himself "the very picture of an American idler in Mexico." Though Jimmy's past as a looter of antiquities ("recovery work") continually catches up with him, he now survives on odd jobs and light hauling. But much like Travis McGee, he also salvages lives, especially the many good-hearted, empty-headed spiritual pilgrims who hope to find the mysteries of the universe revealed among the Mayan ruins. Burns's irregular friends include Louise and Rudy Kurle, two ufologists interested in discovering evidence of prehistoric space travel; Emmett, the often-married old-timer desperately seeking a cure for his physical ailments; Minim, a retired pro bowler who now writes sports poems; a few psycho vets; and Doc Flandin, a wealthy old Mayanist still at work on his masterpiece, a survey of Meso-American civilization. When a lot of New Age hippies as well as some nasty dopers start bumming through town, Burns gets wind of a secretive ceremony to be held at a remote ruin. Is it just more silly talk of harmonic convergence? Of a visit from the little people? Or is it to be a scene of sacrificial violence? Always on the look-out for US runaways, Burns spots one in the company of an evil ex-con who leads a bunch of Mansonesque crazies toward the ancient site. Burns's arrival down river not only spoils the wacky celebration, but he also saves a few lives in a notvery-funny bloodbath. He even solves the mystery of the sudden surge of local madness, all of it traceable to a few articles in an obscure UFO bulletin. The double-talk of the cultists is expertly filtered through Portis's lean and muscular prose, and the plot's as tight as a blood-swollen tick. All in all, totally boss fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1991

ISBN: 671-72457-6

Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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