Though it’s difficult to invest in the heroine, this whaling ship narrative rights itself with meticulous research and...

The Flensing Knife

Life on a whaling ship is alternately difficult and delightful in Douthart’s debut novel chiefly narrated by one captain’s new wife.

The year is 1859, and the New England whaling town of Falmouth is home to many families with members at sea. Seventeen-year-old Celia Alden, who lives with her widowed mother and older brother, Edward, considers herself lucky not to be one of them. When Edward’s friend Capt. Caleb Jones begins to court her, Celia is quickly swept off her feet. Unable to stomach the idea of waiting behind while Caleb embarks on a whaling expedition, she decides to marry him—but only if he allows her to join him on his ship, Patience, for its three-year voyage. Once at sea, Celia quickly realizes the journey will be much more than she bargained for, as she endures both the dangers inherent to a whaling ship—from seasickness to shattered limbs—and the more intimate challenges involved with being the inexperienced wife of a relative stranger on a vessel with no privacy. Though the Patience’s voyage is captivatingly wrought, Celia’s characterization is shallow and sometimes unbelievable. Her quick about-face from apathy to love toward Caleb (and the evolution of their relationship thereafter) feels unearned, in part because she’s given few defining traits before their entanglement. Several supporting characters capture more interest, from Celia’s mother, a widow determined to keep her terminal illness hidden, to Domingo Arruda, a runaway slave now serving as third mate, to Capt. Jones, who questions the strict rules enacted by his Quaker father. It’s unfortunate that Celia herself lacks a stronger back story, as deeper characterization would have made her journey more compelling. Still, Douthart’s narrative, which benefits from extensive research into real-life ships’ logs and other primary source material, shines in the small details, like the “small silken buttons” on Celia’s wedding dress and the “two huge try pots” on the Patience, which stand waiting for the whale hunts to begin.

Though it’s difficult to invest in the heroine, this whaling ship narrative rights itself with meticulous research and attention to detail.

Pub Date: July 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-44180-0

Page Count: 422

Publisher: Lonely Cloud Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2015

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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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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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