“Living in Lake Wobegon was like being stuck in a bad marriage,” thinks Clint, leaving the rest of the novel to resolve...

LIBERTY

One of the funnier Lake Wobegon novels might be the saddest as well.

The farcical note on which the book opens gives no indication of the tragic undercurrent to come. In the latest from radio’s A Prairie Home Companion tale-spinner Keillor (Pontoon, 2007, etc.), town mechanic Clint Bunsen has become too dictatorial in his role as chairman of Lake Wobegon’s Fourth of July festivities, or so his hometown critics contend. Though his increasingly ambitious spectacles attracted the attention of CNN the previous year, some question the expense involved in luring attractions such as the Leaping Lutherans Parachute Team and the Fabulous Frisbee Dogs of Fergus Falls. “It is not easy trying to sell grandeur and pizzazz to a bunch of sour old pragmatists,” grumbles Clint, particularly when so many citizens find their own roles in the celebration diminished. The very soul of Lake Wobegon is at stake, though the Minnesota hamlet is no longer a refuge from the outside world. Depression increasingly dissolves into a pharmaceutical haze, and teenage girls now dress like junior trollops. Ousted from his chairmanship, Clint takes stock of his life, discovering in the process that he made a huge mistake coming back to Minnesota from California after his discharge from the Army, and that his marriage to his hometown sweetheart was more from obligation than love, “[a]s if he were in a play written by someone who didn’t like him.” He finds the road not taken through the Internet, where he connects with a clairvoyant (who may also be a stripper) some 35 years younger than he. Their improbable affair throws Clint’s life, his marriage and his hometown into turmoil, culminating in his last holiday as chairman. It would be easier to laugh if the novel didn’t invest Clint with such pathos and his wife with such devotion. On the Fourth of July, will Clint choose liberty or responsibility?

“Living in Lake Wobegon was like being stuck in a bad marriage,” thinks Clint, leaving the rest of the novel to resolve whether the Bunsens’ marriage is worse than most.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01991-5

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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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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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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