Provocatively nasty but intellectually empty.

WETLANDS

English translation of a German TV personality’s sexually graphic first novel.

“As far back as I can remember, I’ve had hemorrhoids.” With this opening line, Roche declares her intention to omit no physiological detail. Readers may take it as a frank come-on or a kindhearted warning, depending on their interest in exploring aspects of the female nether regions that are seldom described outside of hardcore pornography or the gynecologist’s office. Eighteen-year-old protagonist Helen Memel narrates the entire novel from a hospital bed, where she is confined after the aforementioned rectal unpleasantness contributes to a terrible shaving mishap. While convalescing after emergency surgery, Helen entertains herself by reflecting on her unhappy family, reminiscing about her sexual adventures and tenderly examining all—all—of her body’s excrescences. Indeed, meditations on cervical mucus and related substances make up most of this slender novel, and this, aside from Roche’s fame (she’s a presenter on the German equivalent of MTV), is the reason why her novel has become an international cause scandale. Abroad, it has been celebrated as an empowering depiction of sexual independence, and a superficial reading would support such judgment. But Helen is hardly a feminist heroine. She is sexually precocious but emotionally stunted. She is afraid to be alone, and, while she may revel in her various secretions, she is ultimately no more respectful of her body than the women who groom themselves into a state of profound unnaturalness. Indeed, Helen’s claims that her own filthiness is a political act seem more bratty than noble. When she spits in a glass of mineral water and offers it to a candy striper, it is not the act of a revolutionary; it is the act of a petulant teen.

Provocatively nasty but intellectually empty.

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1892-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2009

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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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