Blunt though quick-paced, this book sends a likable hero through an oddball tunnel of religion and money.

In The Year Of Our Lord

A debut satirical novel focuses on a young preacher and the world’s temptations.

With his 12-year-old pickup and his job at a grocery store, Sylvester “Sly” Smith may not seem destined for greatness. Many believers, however, are likely to disagree. Having started a successful prayer chain on the Internet to bring down the price of gasoline, Sly has managed to gain a following as a preacher. He may not be ordained, but he draws an impressive crowd to a sermon at the University of Texas at Austin. Attracting “students, middle-class couples, kids, whites, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, along with the unwashed and unprofiled,” the diverse gathering shows that Sly clearly has a gift for spreading the Lord’s message. The question, though, is how will he be able to continue his work considering the large amount of money that’s required. The event at the University of Texas cost some $9,000, the reader learns, and to someone like Sly that “might as well be nine billion.” Enter Michael “Ponzi” McGee. A dubious investment professional if there ever was one, Ponzi offers to manage the finances for Sly’s operation. Desperate for cash, Sly sees no alternative but to accept Ponzi’s services. What could possibly go wrong with trusting financial matters to such a man? Obviously something has to, and it is just this sort of on-the-nose sentiment that may frustrate some readers. From the obese woman in an investment club who is constantly eating (she even manages to consume an “industrial-size bag of microwaved popcorn” during a meeting) to the aptly named Reverend Holyworth (a man with a strong distaste for Sly the “acne-laced bumpkin”), aspects of the story tend to lean toward the expected. The narrative does eventually venture to strange places, but the reader is most likely to be hooked by Sly himself. It is not difficult to root for such a protagonist. Though he is foolish enough to trust someone whose nickname is taken from a well-known scam, he does so with noble intentions. At less than 300 pages, the tale of Sly’s troubles moves quickly, and while it is clear from the outset what they will likely entail, finding out how they dissipate remains surprising.

Blunt though quick-paced, this book sends a likable hero through an oddball tunnel of religion and money.

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5233-2120-9

Page Count: 236

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2016

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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