This ``prequel'' to The Scarlet Letter imagines the early life of Hester Prynne and serves as a creative addendum to that classic, but it could not stand on its own. The most impressive facet of this debut novel is the skill with which Bigsby (American Studies/Univ. of East Anglia) imitates Hawthorne's authorial voice, but at the same time one can't help asking whether such mimicry is necessary. There is some fine writing wrapped in old-style layers of verbiage, but naturally there is little suspense with regard to plot as Hester enters into a marriage with Roger Chillingsworth, which at first seems agreeable to both parties but quickly turns loveless and oppressive. Hester nervously escapes across the Atlantic on a boat called the Hope, on which she meets Arthur Dimmesdale. After much digression on the part of the narrator (``Is the coming together of a man and a woman not a route to the spirit?''), the two sleep together. Once ashore, a repentant Dimmesdale insists that he has an obligation to the church and cannot involve himself with her, and pregnant Hester—apparently a pro-lifer, she rejects the idea of forcing a miscarriage and muses, ``Shall the soil refuse the seed?''—is ostracized. There is some imaginative rethinking of the original's behavioral codes as well. ``Proud, independent'' Hester's behavior is only occasionally anachronistic, but Bigsby practically apologizes for Dimmesdale: ``The `A' which he traced with his finger in the air meant not adulteress but first and only, the alpha of his being.'' Some of the freshest material here is the brief final section that deals with Hester's daughter, Pearl, who cannily tries to uncover her father's identity and wonders about her odd mother. An informative ``note'' about Hawthorne points up the book's problem: It tries to be both historical reconstruction and novel and doesn't fulfill either mission completely.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-670-85588-X

Page Count: 199

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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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