Meades (The Three Fates of Henrik Nordmark, 2010) draws literary fiction from 1929 Russia, where young Vladimir awakens one morning with hiccups, yelps occurring precisely every 3.7 seconds.

The hiccups continue relentlessly. Vlad disrupts the village school, where his passion is Ileana, redolent of “caramel and peaches outside on a spring day.” Folk remedies fail. Vlad, unable to sleep, nears collapse. His mother consults the village doctor, who calls upon a revered cousin, Sergei Namestikov, prominent Moscow physician. Sergei soon becomes father figure to the silent young boy whose gaze contains no joy or sorrow, no curiosity or anticipation. Examinations are unproductive. Treatments fail. Namestikov admits no defeat but finally consults Alexander Afiniganov, hated rival who has ever-bested him in honors and now in love, romancing Sergei’s beautiful former wife, Asenka. Afiniganov believes Vlad’s vacant stare is a window into the ageless struggle between “seraph and the devil’s sprite.” Without Namestikov’s knowledge, Afiniganov spirits Vlad away to a Mongolian monastery and into the care of the mystic Great Gog, who believes good and evil battle within Vlad. There he grows to manhood, still hiccuping, until Gog dies. Vlad is blamed, and then pursued into the wilds by Gog’s followers. Soon Vlad decides “sometimes in life, the person you are is the person you decide to be,” and vows to return home. Meades’ tale is peopled by every oddity of character, from a “dwarfling” psychoanalyst to a narcoleptic nurse to farmer Usurpet and his mute wife who has permission to bed whomever she chooses. Despite minor anachronisms, Meades reveals himself a gifted writer, deft with descriptions splashing surrealistic images like, “the muttony mixture of meat and carrots collided about in his open mouth like a small anguished creature trying to escape an ancient Romanian killing machine.” Vlad’s Pilgrim’s Progress ends after he treks from Mongolia to meets his mother, Ileana, Dr. Namestikov, an empathetic army recruiter and his inevitable fate. An allegorical tale ripe with symbolism. 


Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55022-973-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: ECW Press

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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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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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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