A fine collection that imbues fantasy, action and horror with real literary depth.

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BITTER WATERS

Ghosts, monsters and trials at sea complicate romances in these energetic, atmospheric stories.

British Fantasy Society August Derleth Award–winner Brenchley provides deft sketches in a range of styles and settings—from age-of-sail adventure to modern urban realism, always with splashes of the supernatural and the macabre. Certain characters, themes and plot devices resonate throughout the collection. Several stories, for example, concern psychologically fraught vigils for dying men, held by friends and lovers, who experience spectral presences as subtle emanations of regret and spent passions. More rambunctious are a series of maritime yarns about a transhistorical figure named Sailor Martin, who plies the oceans from the 18th century, when he braves pirates, serial killers and sea creatures—including a bracing whale hunt worthy of Moby-Dick—to the present, when he copes with the inexplicable fritzing-out of radios and global positioning systems. In most of the stories, there’s also an amorous relationship involving an older, experienced, authoritative man who shepherds a slender, coltish youth—or, in one case, an entire floating brothel of such—through manly undertakings in and out of the sack. The erotic elements are sometimes hackneyed, as in a take on Dracula, in which the goth cheesiness culminates in pale boys sucking away at a man who seems less than horrified at their attentions. More convincing are quieter evocations of mature love, as when a man tends to his dying lover while fending off the mopey ghost of his uncle. Brenchley’s horror is most effective when it’s understated, a matter of half-seen apparitions and anxious disorientation; these build spookily to a shocking climax in a bravura tale of a man haunted by the ghost of a missing girl. Not every story is a masterpiece, but the author’s vigorous prose and well-paced storytelling will keep readers turning pages as his twisty characters get inside their heads.

A fine collection that imbues fantasy, action and horror with real literary depth.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1590215777

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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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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