Precisely drawn but an age-old portrait of a dreamy girl on the sudden verge of womanhood.

ROWING IN EDEN

An overly familiar outing from Evans (Carter Clay, 1999; The Blue Hour, 1994) tells of one Frances Jean Wahl, 13 years old—and beset by sexual longing.

Not that anyone in Pynch Lake, Iowa, notices. Her hard-drinking father, Brick, and her careworn mother, Peg, are too preoccupied with Franny’s older sisters, Rosamund and Martie, back from college for the summer of 1965. So Franny drifts aimlessly on the periphery of all these other lives, trying to make sense of them and of her own, pondering the differences between “good girls,” “nice girls,” and just plain “bad girls,” these last represented by her much more worldly sisters, whose pale lipstick and backcombed hair give a hint of the cultural turmoil to come. Daydreaming Franny half-listens to the voices in her head: her mother’s prim nagging, her sisters’ sexual innuendoes, and—incongruously—remembered snippets of Emily Dickinson. Of course, a sensitive girl like Franny loves poetry and writes it, too (fortunately, these ingenuous efforts are not quoted very often). Meanwhile, a crowd of characters, mostly teenagers, while away the endless summer with minor fights, furious necking in convertibles, and miniature golf. Despite her sisters’ escapades with various worthless boyfriends, it’s Franny who commits the revolutionary act of actually falling in love—and with an older boy, at that. After her sexual curiosity is satisfied as well, she’s set upon by a gang of thugs on a lonely road, viciously and inexplicably beaten to within an inch of her life, though indeed the resilient Franny recovers. Evans’s skillfully clear prose is suited well to capturing the nuances of this very small world, but the subject matter is antediluvian, and, if anything, the author has evoked the suffocating tedium of summer in Iowa only too well.

Precisely drawn but an age-old portrait of a dreamy girl on the sudden verge of womanhood.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2000

ISBN: 0-06-019550-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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