A compelling and brooding read.

COUNTRY DARK

The title hints at the tone, for this is indeed a Southern gothic story, set in Kentucky and focused on a man who would do anything to keep his family together.

Offutt's (My Father, the Pornographer, 2015, etc.) first fiction in almost two decades opens in 1954, when Tucker is coming back from the Korean War with 11 medals—and he’s not even 18. On the way home through rural Kentucky he stops a man from raping Rhonda, a 14-year-old girl, and he finds the potential rapist is not only the girl’s uncle, but also the deputy sheriff. Rhonda and her rescuer rather casually decide to marry, and Tucker makes a living making moonshine runs for Beanpole, an unfathomably corrupt, 350-pound colossus. The narrative then shifts to 1964, when Tucker and Rhonda have five children the state is threatening to remove from their home. It turns out that of the five, only Jo is “right,” the others having varying degrees of physical or emotional disability. But disabilities or not, Tucker and Rhonda love them all and don’t want the family separated. Blind with rage, Tucker hunts down and kills the social worker who was most adamant about taking his children. Using his connections, Beanpole gets Tucker a reduced sentence, but prison ultimately becomes a place where “Tucker retreated further into himself while increasing his vigilance” against fellow prisoners out to get him. The final part of the novel takes place when Tucker is released in 1971. He feels Beanpole cheated him when he was incarcerated, and now he’s looking for revenge. Offutt has a fine ear for Kentucky-speak and is able to make small shifts in vocabulary that capture the rhythms of rural conversation (“Hidy....Come on up and set a spell”). And Tucker is a knotty and complex character—warm and loving toward his family but cold and threatening toward almost everyone else.

A compelling and brooding read.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2779-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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