Altogether, a gripping piece of travelogue fiction spiked with an unnerving amount of psychological tension. Just right for...

CUBA

A nice married couple from Brighton take a year’s sabbatical to Cuba only to have their not-quite-as-nice neighbor from home turn up there as well.

With this third outing, Barr (Baggage, 2002, etc.) further claims the very little niche that she’s carved out for herself. Her novels take a couple of young British girls with an itch to travel and throws them into situations that (1) they’re hideously unprepared for and (2) bring the unspoken tensions in their friendships into sharp and explosive relief—Alex Garland for girls. The tale this time modifies the template slightly by adding another couple into the equation: young professionals David and Libby. Libby has given up her high-stress but remunerative law position to raise their infant son Charlie, leaving her in the housewife’s trap: glad to be around her child but also uncontrollably bored and bitter. Meantime, David has the travel bug and convinces Libby to come with him on a yearlong trip to Havana. The story’s ticking time bomb is their neighbor Maggie, a pale wraith of sadness with a baby fixation so advanced she buys a set of baby monitors just so she can listen in on conversations in David and Libby’s apartment. Maggie (a stripper who tells everyone that she works for American Express) befriends David and Libby just before they leave for Cuba, imagining herself Libby’s best friend and David’s new lover—and then decides to tag along. Once in Havana, Maggie’s plan is spoiled somewhat by the arrival of her leggy, gorgeous friend Yasmin, who has a good grasp of Maggie’s fragile mental state and what she’s capable of. Barr could have quite easily turned all of this into a simple stalker scenario, but fortunately she resists the impulse (most of the time: the baby-in-distress climax might be a little too yuppies-in-peril for many tastes).

Altogether, a gripping piece of travelogue fiction spiked with an unnerving amount of psychological tension. Just right for the backpacker set.

Pub Date: April 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-452-28503-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2004

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

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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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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