RESUSCITATION OF A HANGED MAN

Poet and novelist Johnson (The Stars at Noon, 1986, etc.) further elaborates his disorienting vision of a cracked world in this unnerving and edgy novel—a very hip sort of postmodern Catholic fiction that keeps you off-balance with all its genre-blending and gender-bending. A Walker Percy-ish "knight of faith" pursues his paranoid quest-romance in the Provincetown of Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance. Far more spiritually corrupt and confused than any Percy character, however, Leonard English really seeks oblivion. A former medical-supplies salesman from Kansas, Lenny arrives on the tip of Cape Cod in the off-season to begin his part-time jobs as a graveyard D.J. and unlicensed p.i. A self-described nobody, for whom "nothing connects," this failed suicide roams the Cape, "wondering about Heaven all the time" and pondering the mystery of the Resurrection. In a local church, he glimpses the woman of his dreams—a raven-haired beauty who happens to be a lesbian and the subject of one of his desultory investigations. Lenny's work for the elderly Ray Sands, a retired cop, always makes him feel dirty. Sands's mysterious activities for a group called the "Truth Infantry" feed Lenny's worst fears, as does a bizarre late-night kidnapping that leaves him worse for wear. God-crazed and faced with Hell's random fury, Lenny becomes Leanna's bedmate, though her heterosexual experiment doesn't come to fruition until one particularly weird moment when Lenny admits his darkest secret: the autoerotic consequence of his suicide attempt by hanging. When their awkward love falters, and strange events accrue, Lenny's psychosis blooms; delusions of his incarnation mount. Lenny's Second Coming finds him a cross-dressing would-be assassin of a local bishop. And while the transvestism allows him to blend into the scenery, his gun-toting lands him in the slammer—where he finds peace eternal. Johnson's jagged dialogue, elliptical phrasing, and odd-ball metaphors all serve his cool metaphysical purposes—a tension-driven detective story in which the major mystery is: God or nothingness? Readers will be surprised by demented joy in this cosmically charged fiction that combines hard-boiled theology and a redeeming wit—the perfect spiritual tonics for tough times.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1991

ISBN: 374-24949-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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