THE HOUSE OF PAIN

A so-so legal thriller by Vietnam vet Leib (The Fire Dream, etc.) that begins better than it ends—with a kidnaping in which the kidnappers are . . . kids. At the start, it’s nothing more than a prank. Fifteen-year-old Sally Collins (who may be the most ungrateful daughter since Goneril) conceives of a scheme to get back at her parents for sending her to an expensive private school (and for objecting to her habit of sleeping around). Conspiring with three pigheaded coevals, she arranges to have herself snatched while none other than her shocked and terrified mother looks on. That brilliant stroke successfully completed, one of the three, Sally’s anointed lover, makes the contact: —Half a million, or she dies.” Trouble is, Edwin Collins doesn’t have the money his awful daughter thinks he does. He had it once, but a series of ill-timed real-estate deals have wheeled him into a financial no-man’s land. There is, however, a useful neighbor on hand: he’s called “Crazy John” for no reason more substantive than that he’s a Vietnam vet still in the grip of post-traumatic stress disorder. John agrees to help, but when he goes after the kidnappers (unaware that they’re juveniles), he suffers an episode. For a terrible moment he confuses Vietnam with the plush Connecticut suburb where they all live. He fires—and, tragically, he kills. The police take him into custody—he makes no resistance—and soon an ambitious prosecutor is seeking his death with all the single-minded purpose of a man who has caught the scent of political capital. In the story’s last half, John will be defended, ironically enough, by people more convinced of his innocence than he himself is. Some good ideas are shortchanged by Leib’s heavy hand, which makes for limp dialogue and few nuances.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 1999

ISBN: 0-312-86616-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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