Smart, funny, heady, thoughtful, literary; this collection can be enjoyed on many levels by many different kinds of people.

THIS LIFE AS TOLD BY AN OLD NDN

With a beautifully written frame story in the vein of One Thousand and One Nights, The Decameron, and Canterbury Tales, Hansen (Raven’s Spear, 2017, etc.) proves short fiction is a genre in which he shines.

Uncle is a chain-smoking, coffee-swilling, cussing old coot who can weave stories out of smoke rising from an unconscious man. This venerable Native American fashions a series of such tales for a group of children, stitching together the life of Tomtom, the man who lies before him. The Uncle sections are simultaneously humorous, instructive, and world-weary, while the Tomtom stories dance in time, referencing, foreshadowing, and illuminating one another as they construct a biographical and psychological portrait of a mixed-race (Native American and white) young man. The stories range from the Twilight Zone–like “Goat Man,” which mixes teenage ennui with a supernatural hitchhiker, to the laugh-out-loud “The Day I Heard the Bell Ring,” which involves a wild ride on a cooler of beer while slyly alluding to Hansen’s own Tricksters’ War Trilogy. Both the frame (“His words were flecks of gold and smoke that leapt out at the fire before weaving back towards the children’s ears”) and the tales (“they cut away those parts of themselves they do not want. But those parts never go away, hanging from them like dead limbs never to be fully amputated”) are elegantly written and image-filled. Whether Tomtom is wrecking his father’s car and running off to live in a tent or forever swallowing unsaid words of love, each tale abounds with running themes, symbols, and allusions. The ability to see outward from darkness versus the inability to see into darkness, along with the idea of being loved but not wanted, permeates, while the appearances of wasps and butterflies continually portend and color events. The stories Uncle draws out of Tomtom highlight the life of a man in turmoil and just might bring him peace.

Smart, funny, heady, thoughtful, literary; this collection can be enjoyed on many levels by many different kinds of people.

Pub Date: April 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-979748-35-3

Page Count: 278

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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