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MOTHER TONGUE

A smart, unorthodox, and delectable superpower tale.

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A man burdened by visions featuring multilingual words possesses a remarkable ability some believe could threaten the world in this thriller.

Caught in a wildfire, California teacher Jon Wanamaker and his bus driver friend, Ernie Renssalear, dodge an unknown assailant’s gunshots. As if that weren’t enough, they later find floating in nearby Lake Isadora a bottle with a brain and note inside. The cryptic note references the Upsweep Project and Amelynd Island, both of which reporter Remedy Conover learns about for an article she’s writing. She’s shocked to discover that four years ago, every human subject in Upsweep, a secret government-funded study, died except one—her ex-husband, Jon. Since the project, Jon has intermittently seen words, like printed text, overwhelm his field of vision. The words appear as “ribbons” (digital ribbon boards) and in multiple languages, including Tlingit of Jon’s Native American clan. But they also lead Jon to an extraordinary ability; some associated with Upsweep want him to develop this power while others, such as the gunman at the wildfire, consider him too dangerous to live. Various parties converge in Sirretta Valley to either help Jon or somehow ensure he doesn’t become a menace. Cray’s (Piercing Maybe, 2018, etc.) twisty tale unravels at a frantic pace. Plot turns make some of the characters all the more striking: Individuals from Jon’s Alaskan hometown, for example, blame him for the death of a young girl. Furthermore, the story explores multiple sclerosis-afflicted Remedy, whose disability is a condition, not a flaw. It even precipitates the indelible image of the reporter using a kitchen broom as an aid instead of a cane. Little can be said regarding Jon’s ability without spoiling the narrative. But it’s on full dizzying display in a smashing final act that should leave readers debating who the real villain is—or if there is one. Unsurprisingly, the prose is linguistically appealing: “Firefly-like sparkles flashed as daylight caught the tiny shards of glass sprinkled across the man’s filthy cheeks.”

A smart, unorthodox, and delectable superpower tale.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-940317-08-3

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Third Quandary Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2018

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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FIREFLY LANE

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

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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