Although a somewhat-predictable stalking subplot wraps up a little too neatly, the book succeeds as a well-developed...

SCAR TISSUE

A talented but troubled surgeon searches for personal and professional redemption in MacDonald’s debut novel.

At one time, Dr. Phil Graham had it all. A successful surgeon praised for his professionalism and rapport with his patients, he’s also happily married to Joan, the love of his life. Graham believes he has the perfect life until a car accident takes the life of his wife and leaves him with severe scars, both physical and emotional. Although he tries to rebuild his world and return to his medical practice, he increasingly finds himself numbing the pain with alcohol and casual sex. The changes in Graham’s lifestyle eventually lead to a series of outbursts in the operating room that threaten his career. Just when Graham’s life and career reach their lowest ebb, he meets Amanda Fellows, the sister of one of his patients, who offers a second chance at love. While Graham takes the first steps toward romance with Amanda, a one-night stand with a woman named Dawn comes back to haunt him when he finds himself stalked by her husband. MacDonald’s brisk, compact narrative is tightly focused on Graham, a compassionate surgeon whose present troubles may be rooted in a tragic childhood. Some of the most effective elements of the novel involve Graham’s interactions with his colleagues and patients. These supporting characters aren’t anonymous set decoration; in many respects, they’re as clearly defined as Graham. An unexpected detour in the action occurs when Graham decides to unravel the secrets of his childhood; however, MacDonald convincingly connects Graham’s past to his current problems. The novel stumbles a bit when it comes to Graham’s ill-fated one-night stand with Dawn. Graham’s initial attraction to her and his reluctance to continue the fling are well-defined, but Dawn and her husband remain murky peripheral characters in a subplot that ultimately seems excessive.

Although a somewhat-predictable stalking subplot wraps up a little too neatly, the book succeeds as a well-developed character study of a man in the midst of a personal crisis.

Pub Date: April 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495203459

Page Count: 216

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2014

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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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Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice,...

LONG DIVISION

A novel within a novel—hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.

Citoyen “City” Coldson is a 14-year-old wunderkind when it comes to crafting sentences. In fact, his only rival is his classmate LaVander Peeler. Although the two don’t get along, they’ve qualified to appear on the national finals of the contest "Can You Use That Word in a Sentence," and each is determined to win. Unfortunately, on the nationally televised show, City is given the word “niggardly” and, to say the least, does not provide a “correct, appropriate or dynamic usage” of the word as the rules require. LaVander similarly blows his chance with the word “chitterlings,” so both are humiliated, City the more so since his appearance is available to all on YouTube. This leads to a confrontation with his grandmother, alas for City, “the greatest whupper in the history of Mississippi whuppings.” Meanwhile, the principal at City’s school has given him a book entitled Long Division. When City begins to read this, he discovers that the main character is named City Coldson, and he’s in love with a Shalaya Crump...but this is in 1985, and the contest finals occurred in 2013. (Laymon is nothing if not contemporary.) A girl named Baize Shephard also appears in the novel City is reading, though in 2013, she has mysteriously disappeared a few weeks before City’s humiliation. Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways.

Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an emphatically post-Katrina world.

Pub Date: June 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-932841-72-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Bolden/Agate

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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