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HOMETOWN BREW

An initially compelling though finally unsatisfying fourth novel from the gifted author of Little Woman (1990) and Public Life (1993). Akins’s strangely inchoate story begins as a contrast between the lives of two slightly acquainted women in the town of Rensselaer, Wisconsin. Melissa Johnson, who with her brother Frank stands to inherit their wealthy father’s profitable brewery (and its popular product, “Gutenbier”), has returned home with an illegitimate baby. And Alice Reinhart, a brewery employee, is sexually harassed by two redneck co-workers and also bedeviled by the reappearance of nude photographs for which she posed as a teenager. Gradually the story broadens to portray Melissa’s amorous involvement with a much older man, her late father’s attorney Curtis Niemand; Frank Johnson’s sympathetic handling of Alice’s complaint against her tormentors, and his subsequent affair with her; and—ever in the background—the character of —Little— Martin, the novel’s self-effacing good guy, who was Alice’s high-school classmate (the first, in fact, to confront her with those notorious photos) and who now figures prominently in both the melodramatic climax and the (rather unconvincing) aftermath of reconciliations and affirmed relationships. Meantime, Akins does demonstrate several important strengths: She writes beautifully formed, intensely analytical sentences and paragraphs in a style not unworthy of comparison with Henry James’s. She describes the brewmaking process in thoroughly convincing detail (in a manner reminiscent of Peter Gadol’s descriptions of winemaking in his recent The Long Rain). And she skillfully explores the mixed feelings of men who are simultaneously attracted to Alice Reinhart and wary of intimacy with her. But the characterizations overall are vague, and the novel is hamstrung by what appear to be its own mixed motives: to examine the sources and nature of sexual harassment in the workplace and to offer a realistic contemporary romance about wounded people helping one another heal. It piques but doesn’t hold your attention. Akins has done and can do much better.

Pub Date: June 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-44795-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1998

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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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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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