IN ALL THINGS

A RETURN TO THE DROOLING WARD

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

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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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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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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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