An unusual bildungsroman that mostly transcends the limitations of its formats.

The Too-Brief Chronicle of Judah Lowe

In two linked novellas with strict word/character limits, Sanderson (Theatre/State Univ. of New York, Oswego; Gorilla Theater, 2003) playfully narrates the coming-of-age of a New Jersey high school student.

The work’s two sections originated as an Esquire magazine contest entry and a Twitter account. For the competition, Sanderson submitted 79/79/’79, a novella set in 1979 and composed of 79 numbered, titled chapters of 79 words each. He follows this with @1000thenovel, containing 1,000 tweets. Both share a protagonist—not the titular Judah but his best friend, Moe Tazwell, a brainy junior at McTierney High. Shifting among third-person, first-person, and first-person plural narration, the scattershot chapters nevertheless build a coherent picture of a set of students who slack off and show initiative in roughly equal measure. Moe plays the bass, works at an ice cream shop, and drinks; his friends study Latin, wear deerstalker hats, and write for the Alternative Literary Magazine. Various love interests come and go, with sex an ever present taunt. Judah and Moe set up a debate team and take home trophies. Meanwhile, Moe’s brother Taz turns delinquent, painting graffiti and making drug pipes. The 79/79/’79 chapters are more successful than the tweets, though both novellas involve sudden shifts, lacking the descriptive passages that function as transitions in most novels. The best chapter is “Magister Musicae,” a verse tribute to the music teacher. Stand-out tweets often showcase condensed metaphors, as in “Reading Kerouac…was like a cool primer in independence.” A pastoral interlude, when Moe visits a friend’s uncle’s farm in Virginia, provides a welcome contrast to the urban setting. Overall, there is perhaps a vague sense that the title—a nod to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—and structure came first and a linguistically effusive but somewhat plot-light story was developed to fit. The 140-character cast of @1000thenovel (to match tweets’ 140 “characters”) requires inserting many irrelevant, one-dimensional figures. Moe himself, though, is well-realized: both emblematic of his time and an outlier, especially as he jets off to Paris instead of attending college.

An unusual bildungsroman that mostly transcends the limitations of its formats.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9861445-4-7

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2015

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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