All too short but powerful; beautifully written, well-observed and effective.

IN ALL THINGS

A RETURN TO THE DROOLING WARD

A 17-year-old undergoes training as a psychiatric technician at a California state hospital in this fictionalized memoir.

Davis (Road Stories, 2013) bases this novel on his experience in a training program for psychiatric technicians at then–Sonoma State Hospital in Eldridge, California, beginning in 1970 when he was 17. Noting that the book is fictional, Davis states that he has “taken some liberties to serve the story. But the place and the people are just as I remember them.” Davis skillfully evokes the setting with its hierarchies, routines, customs and varied characters. A shift supervisor explains the classifications for one ward: “The Thunderbirds…are mostly high functioning morons. The Falcons are mostly imbeciles, The Ravens mostly mongoloids with a few cretins.” The narrator’s tour that day ends in a small outdoor yard: “The Thunderbirds, Falcons and Ravens were all there; sitting or rocking or staring up at the sky through the fencing that sealed off the top of the space as well as the walls.” Medications, the narrator learns, “did most of the supervising.” Characteristic of the book as a whole, the quiet contrast here between the patients’ soaring bird names and the reality of their caged lives is the more poignant for its understatement. There are few snake-pit horrors here, but more prevalent is the sadness that results when the best solutions available are bad ones. When a trainee trying to restore range of motion pushes a little too far, “the sound of her case study’s arm breaking echoed through the ward like a branch snapping in the forest.” The narrator’s compassion, the way he listens to and really looks at his patients, is a reminder of the possibilities for connection even among the grimmest surroundings, balanced by an acknowledgement of the limitations. Gerald, for example, is a hard case known for biting (until his teeth were pulled out) and running away (until an orthopedic surgeon’s operation prevents it). The narrator manages to build a tentative, fragile understanding with Gerald, but even so, he can’t give him the freedom he craves.

All too short but powerful; beautifully written, well-observed and effective.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0986069727

Page Count: 86

Publisher: The Wedgewood Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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