A superb tale of the druggie lifestyle, by a writer with talent to burn.

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SPOONFUL

Young drug dealers cope with love, loss and voracious smack habits in this scintillating saga of Chicago’s lowlife demimonde.

Michael Lira is a decent kid from a working-class Italian-American family, just trying to make enough money from petty crime to satisfy his heroin jones. He has an urban village backing him up, including his roommate, Sal, a fellow junkie who’s obsessed with film noir and constantly hatching ill-advised capers; their boyhood friend, Dante, a former high school football star who’s into old-school self-destruction with booze; and Dante’s girlfriend (and Michael’s secret lover), Lila, a struggling artist who does sex shows on the side. They party, abuse substances and ponder their feckless lives in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, a hipster enclave that the author depicts with wonderfully atmospheric precision. (Michael and Sal’s tribal animus against yuppie gentrifiers knows no bounds.) After a B&E goes hilariously wrong, Michael decides to shape up; he industriously builds his drug-dealing business, swears off personal use of everything except marijuana and cocaine, and invests money with one of his customers, a financial adviser whose amoral hustling puts Michael’s to shame. His life soars into easy money, hot sex and ravishing highs—with the ever-present threat of arrest, overdose or a relapse that spells helpless dissolution. Writing with a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and a keen eye for social nuance in every setting from housing projects to chic galleries, Mendius makes this classic junkie opera feel fresh and believable. His portrait of the drug industry is fascinating in its matter-of-fact detail—Michael’s supplier is an upstanding ghetto family business—as is his rendering of the psychology of addiction as it swells from seductive whisper to unappeasable tyranny. In the background is a vivid sketch of the Clinton-era dot-com boom; everyone is on the make, drenched in delusions they know aren’t real yet can’t shake off. Mendius’ prose is colorful and evocative but suffused with irony, hangdog humor and muted pathos; he makes a lurid subculture both raucously entertaining and profoundly real.

A superb tale of the druggie lifestyle, by a writer with talent to burn.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0578095417

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Anything Goes

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2012

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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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