A philosophically charged critique of government, couched in the form of a novel.

DRAINING THE SWAMP

A parable about a woman’s education in Washington politics, as she pursues a career full of frustrated hopes.

Gibney, the author of a study of evolution (Evolutionary Philosophy, 2012) and a short story writer, spent the bulk of his professional career working in the political beltway, pulling stints in the massive bureaucracies of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. Drawing on that expertise, he offers a fictional examination of Washington’s perennial dysfunction. Justine Swensen arrives in the nation’s capital from Minnesota with strident, idealistic aspirations of government as an agent of social change. Intoxicated by a new senator’s promises to transform government for the better, she starts out as a staffer in his office, brimming with enthusiasm. However, she quickly learns that his promises are more rhetoric than reality, and she embarks on a career in various jobs in D.C. politics. Justine is serially disenchanted with the House Appropriations Committee, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Homeland Security, to name a few. Each time, corruption and cynicism crush her high hopes; she even tries her luck in the private sector before finally running for office herself. This novel doubles as a sort of American civics textbook, explaining the functions of each agency while adding the spice of insider knowledge. It’s bookended with references to Ayn Rand’s brand of libertarianism, which provides philosophical power to the concluding moral: “In the private sector, you were able to see the futility of any single job in just a few years because your companies were so small and could fail so quickly,” Justine says. “The government though is so sprawling and so stable that it took me an entire career to just figure that out.” The book can be a bit didactic, as it’s somewhat heavy-handedly structured to provide a lesson in the grim reality of American politics. (The final chapter is even titled “The Moral of the Story.”) Still, its crisp dialogue (“Is lunch going to be enough or do I need to apologize for all of DC?”) and deep knowledge of Washington’s inner workings make it an edifying read.

A philosophically charged critique of government, couched in the form of a novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1492940098

Page Count: 214

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2014

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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