A clever tale about a detective’s daunting case from a promising author.

The Soul Dick: An American Romance

In this debut novel, Mason Burr resembles no other private eye in the much-loved genre; the bad guys he targets turn out to be his clients’ hang-ups.

Burr’s latest case involves Jerry Zobec, a classic schlub. Zobec hires Burr, who claims he can “debug personalities” in 24 hours, because he’s desperate. Zobec hates his job; his girlfriend, Amy McFine, has left him; and he lacks friends. Weltschmerz—the feeling that the world is going to hell and that any good guy is hopelessly beleaguered—is Burr’s diagnosis. Thus begins the detective’s mission to rid Zobec of this feeling or at least show him how to cope with it. Burr and Zobec will commune for 24 hours; they will even eat together—at the Acid Reflux Cafe, where world-weary Louie, the proprietor, dispenses tough love. Zobec harbors resources, however. He is a real motor mouth, but what comes out of that mouth is killingly funny and shows a deep interest in the world, even if that engagement remains negative. His monologues consist of well-informed rants about the health care crisis, the out-of-control gun culture, the Middle East—and many other topics. In short, Zobec hasn’t really given up, though he doesn’t realize it yet. With a deadline looming, Burr faces a formidable task: “What in the hell have you done?” he asks himself, fearing that Zobec might be certifiable. But the investigator soon grasps his client’s potential. Smith exploits an ingenious idea here. For starters, she concocts a wonderful sendup of the detective noir genre (Burr toils in a seedy walk-up, locals call the neighborhood the Crosshairs District, gunfire sometimes breaks out, etc.). In addition, the author has invented some colorful characters. The private eye’s name is a witty homage to Perry Mason and Raymond Burr. Clyde the Psychic, who works in the gumshoe’s building, sometimes appears on “Seer Sucker,” a radio show. A pigeon with attitude named Drake assists Burr. Best of all is Zobec, who is irritating but basically lovable and a useful platform for Smith’s political and social views. And for her jokes: “Can you believe they demoted Pluto to a dwarf planet?” Zobec complains to Burr. “It should go rogue and get the fuck out of the whole solar system. Start someplace new.”

A clever tale about a detective’s daunting case from a promising author.

Pub Date: April 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9858224-4-6

Page Count: 206

Publisher: McLarals

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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