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A MATTER OF TIME

A prison tale that offers a compelling setup but lacks momentum.

A novella chronicles a condemned man’s final day before his execution.

In 2010, in an alternative America, a man named Ed Davis sits in a prison cell waiting to die. In 24 hours, he will face a firing squad for murdering a man on the city hall steps of his hometown of Elgin, California. After a decade of terrorist attacks and draconian security laws, President Trent came to power two years earlier and instituted a despotic, right-wing regime. Ed has long been a critic of the country’s rightward shift. In Elgin, he and his Sunday morning jogging club—the Slow Old Guys, as they were known—even attempted to wage their own nonviolent resistance on the local level. Then everything fell tragically apart, leaving Ed to contemplate his life’s wasted moments: “What I don’t know is: what would I take back? What I don’t know is: which of those minutes that seemed wasted led to others that weren’t? Maybe led to others that were great—a lifetime that was great in so many ways. Yet—they all led finally to this night, this place, this cell.” As the hours pass, he meets with friends, enemies, and bureaucrats, all the while digging deeper into his memory in order to find some antidote to his fear. Author Davis’ (In All Things, 2014, etc.) prose is sharp, particularly when he describes Ed’s present, slowly ratcheting up the tension with each tick of the clock: “There’s the door for the lunch-cart. A little late. Almost twenty after the hour, but what do I care? I’m not going anyplace—at least not for a while.” Less satisfying are the expositional passages that explain how America and Ed came to be in their current predicament, which are a tad dull and disappointingly uninventive. The author explains in his foreword that this novella was itself written in 24 hours back in 2002 (and as such, its political bent is actually a reaction to President George W. Bush, not Donald Trump). This perhaps explains some of the story’s shortcomings, but nevertheless leaves readers with a work that is not nearly as intriguing or revelatory as its premise promises. 

A prison tale that offers a compelling setup but lacks momentum.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9860697-6-5

Page Count: 174

Publisher: The Wedgewood Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

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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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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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