Absurd and comic but with a bitter edge, this novel takes a unique and refreshing approach to the darker aspects of Mexico’s...

THE ENLIGHTENED ARMY

The reconquest is on, and it’s being led by an old man and a clutch of high school students.

Shortlisted for the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, this is Toscana’s fourth novel to be translated into English (The Last Reader, 2004, etc.). Ignacio Matus is sick and tired of the United States of America. As a public school history teacher in Monterrey, Mexico, Matus spends most of his class railing against the cruel injustices and depravities of Mexico’s neighbor to the north. But his gripes aren’t just political, they’re Olympic. Matus is convinced that he is the rightful winner of the 1924 Olympic bronze medal for the marathon and not the American who walked away with the prize—this is despite the fact that Matus wasn’t an official competitor and staged his own parallel race through the streets of Monterrey. When Matus is fired from the school for one rant too many, he decides it’s time to conquer the beast. But his call for an invading army is only answered by a few friends and a handful of students. Calling themselves los iluminados (“the enlightened ones”), the dreamers march north with visions of glory and history in their heads. When los iluminados cross the Rio Grande (in only a few steps) and quickly conquer the Alamo (a two-story house), the stage is set for a showdown between the forces of good and evil. If they’re actually in the United States. The novel jumps back and forth between Matus’ ramshackle adventures, his old age, when he attempts one more marathon, and a post-mortem exploration of his legacy, or at least an attempt to find anyone who really remembers him. Like the novel itself, Matus is both compelling and absurd. The novel is funny in a cringe-inducing way and has an undercurrent of sadness and tragedy we can’t look away from. We read almost with our hands over our eyes, anxious for the safety of these dreamers too innocent to fear their own naiveté. Toscana’s postmodern satire explores the darker side of Mexico’s impression of the United States and Mexico’s own place “toward the bottom where the crumbs are handed out.” The jokes are obvious, but the message is subtle and deft.

Absurd and comic but with a bitter edge, this novel takes a unique and refreshing approach to the darker aspects of Mexico’s relationship to the United States.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4773-1777-8

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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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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A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.

THE CHASE

From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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