CHEAP TICKET TO HEAVEN

This powerfully imagined tale of a contemporary Bonnie and Clyde displays Smith's (Chimney Rock, 1993, etc.) furious overplotting and near-genius for lyrical intensity in just about equal measure. Jack Baker and Clare Manigault, a married pair who've been robbing banks and exploring their own commingled eroticism and lawlessness throughout 18 years together, are portrayed during their climactic odyssey through the South and Midwest—back to ``the evil spirit'' of her family that Clare fears and the vortex of suicidal hatred that dominated Jack's childhood. Smith's plot is driven by the lust for revenge exhibited by Clare's father, Francis, determined to hunt down the bastard son who murdered his ``legal'' half-brother, and by the avaricious malice of Donnie Bernardnick, a philosophical ex-con who schemes to draw Jack back into his destructive orbit. These, and others who surround them and sometimes become their victims, are drawn with sure broad strokes. They are looming grotesques whose inmost fears and desires are analyzed with a passionate urgency reminiscent, believe it or not, of Dostoyevsky: That's how good Smith can be when he's at his best. He's superb on the turmoil of motives that make Jack (in his own words) ``an obscure functionary in the cavalcade of crime.'' (Clare, by contrast, is comparatively opaque—seen essentially as Jack sees her.) We catch ourselves wishing Jack weren't portrayed as quite so self-probingly articulate; yet Smith's point has to do with the varieties of criminal experience and the different places such wholesale surrender to the demands of the id can take us. Violent acts and deaths abound here; some are so outrÇ that they are almost unintentionally comic. Almost. The book stares you down, dares you to laugh. Even the most willing reader may have trouble initially entering Smith's fever-pitched world. Once you're hooked, though, you're in it for the duration. This unforgettably vivid account of a dangerous journey is a real trip.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 1996

ISBN: 0-8050-3797-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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