FIRES OF EDEN

A period romance masquerading as a metaphysical thriller disguised as a buddy movie, this latest novel from Simmons (Lovedeath, 1993, etc.) bridges two centuries and offers lots of plucky fun along the way. The smoldering garden of the title is Hawaii, where the golf- starved Japanese who have come to purchase billionaire Byron Trumbo's sprawling resort are as likely to discover severed hands on the 14th green as they are to encounter a giant talking pig that devours souls. Historian Eleanor Perry has a different motive for her visit—to solve the mystery of her Great Great Great Great Aunt Kidder, whose Hawaiian adventures with Mark Twain in 1866 will be paralleled by Perry's own. In each era, a grumpy cabal of local priests summons the forces of darkness to rid the islands of an unwanted white plague—missionaries in Aunt Kidder's day, real- estate tycoons in Perry's. Shifting deftly between the mid-1800s and the present, Simmons uses Aunt Kidder's journal to recount her unlikely romantic gambol with Samuel Clemens, not yet Mark Twain but acid-tongued nonetheless. The pair's climactic scene together, in which Kidder and Clemens slather themselves with rotten kukui- nut oil and descend naked into the underworld, approaches inspired hilarity without compromising suspense. Never really too cloying in its symmetries, the novel supplies Perry with her own confederates, who, while not possessed of Clemens's legendary wit, are substantially more than cardboard action figures. In a useful twist, it's Cordie Stumpf, Perry's hard-drinking sister in arms, who, with a reluctant Trumbo as her Twain, battles the novel's pig- god Mephistopheles to reclaim Perry's captured ghost and save the imperiled resort. Allying the women, literally, with female volcanic deities, Simmons even wedges a feminist angle into his already bulging anthropological primer. The flip side of a Don Ho single, short on poi and ukuleles but long on elemental carnage, vengeful immortals, and nimble plotting.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 1994

ISBN: 0-399-13922-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

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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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