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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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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