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THE STONE FLOWER GARDEN

Clichéd plot and stereotyped characters won’t stand in the way, for those who like them, of the pleasures of a family...

In her seventh, a southern gothic about family secrets (but no mystery), Smith (On Bear Mountain, 2001, etc.) keeps nothing secret for long—and makes some curious authorial choices in her longwinded revelations of who done it, why, and how all the families are intertwined.

Darl Union, a poor little rich girl being raised by her grandmother, Swan Hardigree, a woman as cold and hard as the marble quarry that produces her fortune, has no friends except the granddaughter of Swan’s elegant mulatto assistant, Matilda. One day a stonecutter’s family arrives, and soon enough Darl and the son, Eli Wade, fall in love. Few will be surprised to learn that some generations back there was a love that crossed color lines, and that as a result the Wades, Swan, and Matilda are all related. When Aunt Clara, Swan’s no-good sister (a femme fatale from central casting), arrives demanding money, it’s clear that she’ll come to a bad end. And Darl is there when she does, killed by Grandmother Swan and buried in the Stone Flower Garden. Family loyalty demands that Darl say nothing when Eli’s father is accused of being the one responsible for Clara’s disappearance—and is killed as a result. Twenty-five years later, Darl is a defense lawyer specializing in death penalty cases, trying to appease the guilt that torments her. A mysterious man enters her life and, though she doesn’t recognize Eli, the reader is privy to his secret identity all along. When Darl finally discovers who Eli is, she takes him to the Stone Flower Garden and digs up Clara’s bones, thereby proving his father’s innocence and clearing the way for Eli and her to acknowledge their mutual love.

Clichéd plot and stereotyped characters won’t stand in the way, for those who like them, of the pleasures of a family romance in lush settings.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2002

ISBN: 0-316-80094-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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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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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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