A delicate touch throughout, but the characters, for all their foibles, are largely wretched, racked, inscrutable souls next...

JUDGE

Ex–New Yorker staffer Allen (The Green Suit, stories, 2000) offers an eloquent but determinedly downbeat first novel about the family and clerk of a recently deceased Kentucky judge, all at sea about what to do with themselves.

It’s easy for Judge Dupree: he gave his liberal opinions from the bench (confounding those who expected otherwise from the dyed-in-the-wool Republican), defended his harping, health-food freak of a spouse against their two sons, had a glimmer of the life that might have been when he finally kissed his longtime clerk, Lucy, at age 80—and then died. Lucy, though, with no plans for her future, goes to church in hopes of finding a direction. There, she finds Morgan Dupree, the Judge’s divorced younger son, a sometime sportswriter who has come back to Louisville from Manhattan to write a book about his father. The other son, Crawford, still suffering the consequences of landing on his head in a Manhattan street after colliding with a bicyclist, has grown diffident in his teaching and so estranged from his wife in Wisconsin that she starts an affair, while he tries to take up with his son’s much-younger ventriloquist teacher. The Judge’s widow, meanwhile, fusses and frets in her own way, but finds a reliable companion in her yardman, who buries the Judge’s old dog for her when the pooch goes into convulsions and dies on the patio. Part of the mix too is “Uncle” Louis, the Judge’s cousin and best friend, an alcoholic and closet homosexual who finally comes out by bringing home dark-eyed Lazaro from a trip to Guatemala, then succumbs to cancer not long after. As Morgan pursues Lucy, and Crawford travels with the ventriloquist, the Judge, an unabashed train enthusiast, rides the rails as a ghost, occasionally appearing to his loved ones in their distress.

A delicate touch throughout, but the characters, for all their foibles, are largely wretched, racked, inscrutable souls next to whom the ghostly Judge seems a paragon of substance.

Pub Date: April 11, 2003

ISBN: 1-56512-369-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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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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