A bit of Touched By an Angel sanctimony near the end scarcely dampens the antic entertainment offered here.

COTTON

A picaresque odyssey about a shape-shifter—a kind of goofy Orlando—who embodies the upheaval of three decades.

Leifur Nils Kristjansson St. Marie du Cotton is born in the mid-20th century to a black mother and a globe-trotting Icelander. This Nordic oddity is raised in a Delta dirt-farm setting that recalls Steve Martin’s The Jerk. He falls in love with Angelina, the daughter of a racist, and joins voting drives and civil-rights marches. From his New Orleans aristocratic grandmother, Celeste, he inherits the ability to read minds. The narrator is beguiling, and the contortionist linguistic feats performed by this southern-fried, neurologically challenged savant are riveting. Ambushed by his paramour’s father and the latter’s Klan cohorts, he is left for dead, his battered body dumped on a freight car and shipped north. Rescued by a St. Louis brain surgeon, he takes on a new identity, Lee McCoy, white man. After being drafted, he is assigned to a special unit called the Beige Berets, dedicated to psychological warfare through telepathy. A clairvoyant buddy, Ethan, slips him some sports results that will secure Lee’s financial future. But when a car accident damages his penis, he undergoes surgery and, courtesy of the defrocked but talented renegade Doc Gene, becomes a woman. From there, the only logical destination is San Francisco, where Lee is adopted by a teahouse coven of radical lesbian feminists who reject her when they learn she’s a porn starlet. Then it’s love and domesticity with a mousy journalist covering the Patty Hearst brouhaha. At some point the narrator’s skin darkens naturally as a result of estrogen treatment, and there is a final reckoning with mentors and tormentors alike.

A bit of Touched By an Angel sanctimony near the end scarcely dampens the antic entertainment offered here.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2005

ISBN: 0-15-101123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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