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 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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Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.


Piper Manning is determined to sell her family’s property so she can leave her hometown behind, but when her siblings come back with life-changing secrets and her sexy neighbor begins to feel like “The One,” she might have to redo her to-do list.

As children, Piper and her younger siblings, Gavin and Winnie, were sent to live with their grandparents in Wildstone, California, from the Congo after one of Gavin’s friends was killed. Their parents were supposed to meet them later but never made it. Piper wound up being more of a parent than her grandparents, though: “In the end, Piper had done all the raising. It’d taken forever, but now, finally, her brother and sister were off living their own lives.” Piper, the queen of the bullet journal, plans to fix up the family’s lakeside property her grandparents left the three siblings when they died. Selling it will enable her to study to be a physician’s assistant as she’s always wanted. However, just as the goal seems in sight, Gavin and Winnie come home, ostensibly for Piper’s 30th birthday, and then never leave. Turns out, Piper’s brother and sister have recently managed to get into a couple buckets of trouble, and they need some time to reevaluate their options. They aren’t willing to share their problems with Piper, though they’ve been completely open with each other. And Winnie, who’s pregnant, has been very open with Piper’s neighbor Emmitt Reid and his visiting son, Camden, since the baby’s father is Cam’s younger brother, Rowan, who died a few months earlier in a car accident. Everyone has issues to navigate, made more complicated by Gavin and Winnie’s swearing Cam to secrecy just as he and Piper try—and fail—to ignore their attraction to each other. Shalvis keeps the physical and emotional tension high, though the siblings’ refusal to share with Piper becomes tedious and starts to feel childish.

Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296139-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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