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RENATO, THE PAINTER

AN ACCOUNT OF HIS YOUTH & HIS 70TH YEAR IN HIS OWN WORDS

It’s possible to emerge from this fictional memoir of a colorful, irascible but likable painter with almost no idea of what...

A 70-year-old painter looks back on a life of women and art and ponders the present-day challenges of aging in this loose-limbed narrative.

This is the third Mirabelli (The Goddess in Love with a Horse, 2008, etc.) novel involving members of the Italian-American Cavallù-Stillamare clan, which Renato joined as a foundling in 1930. Family features prominently in the painter’s memories, as do friends, food, and lovers, for all of which he has a hearty appetite into his seventh decade and speaks of warmly. On the sex side, he has: teacher-related fantasies in the fifth grade; a rich marriage that is a fine little love story in itself; a threesome that produces a child he and his wife semi-adopt; and various flings. Yet when the book focuses on his present life at 70, he’s living in relative isolation in his Boston studio while his wife, Alba, lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is ostensibly so Renato can focus on painting, but there are suggestions of connubial friction. The marital tensions aren’t improved when a former student’s daughter and her child move into the studio, though the book benefits from a bit of suspense: will he kick her out before or after he sleeps with her? The other thread tugging a reader through is Renato’s halting efforts to get a gallery show, something he hasn’t had in some 30 years, though he and others reckon he’s one of the best painters around. Things look good when a hot dealer shows interest, but she proves hard to nail down. There’s also some suspense concerning Renato’s prostate, among the many pains of aging. What there’s strangely little of from this voluble, engaging, intelligent character is specific talk about art and painting as craft, about color, space, technique, brush stroke, history, influences.

It’s possible to emerge from this fictional memoir of a colorful, irascible but likable painter with almost no idea of what he paints, and that’s frustrating.

Pub Date: May 3, 2012

ISBN: 9780929701967

Page Count: 308

Publisher: McPherson & Company

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2016

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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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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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