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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1998

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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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A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.

THE CHASE

From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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